Christa Näher

The invitation for Christa Näher’s exhibition quotes a letter from the Marquis de Sade to “La Jeunesse.” Dated October 4, 1779; the diction is crude and sprinkled with risqué barbs, but on the whole the language constitutes a lovely negotiation of darkness. Näher’s works, two cycles on the theme of the Marquis de Sade, absorb the mood of this language into their titles: Bluthusten salonfähig (Coughing blood respectable) and Die Zeit ist dem Zustand der Seek egal (Time doesn’t matter to the state of the mind) (all works 1990). Yet these works are not literary illustrations, they are balancing acts between the artist’s literary sensibility and her emotionally fashioned concept of pictorial space. Thus the amorphous, earth-colored ink drawings are overwhelmed by darkness—shapeless, unfathomable, endlessly suggestive—while the blue, objective drawings are dominated by incarcerated figures. The male form emerges in harmony with the formal means through a swift hatchwork of blue ink strokes. In both cycles, spatial reduction and spatial infinity are diametrically opposed, as the spatially confined universe of the prison on the one side and as free-flowing color and space on the other side. The two are bound together or directly related by Näher’s emotionally determined arrangements, which countervail all established principles of pictorial order.

In these works, Näher formulates her own affinity for de Sade’s writings. The core idea is that two completely different responses are made to the same readings. Bluthusten salonfähig follows an art-for-art’s-sake agenda in the broadest sense. Art for it’s own sake, with no discernible intention or social purpose, is produced by the collision of black and brown inks. This cycle ultimately aspires to a symbolic concentration of various strata of pigments, somewhat comparable to the stratification of the different metaphorical levels of a word. Darkness is the chosen and, in this sense, manipulated expression — manipulated verbally and through the colors. The color transforms the reality of this expression in the picture into pure form. The magic of the pictures lie in the mystery, incomprehensibility, and enormity of the pictorial space.

In Die Zeit ist dem Zustand der Seele egal, the pictorial space contracts, while the vast relationships within the picture expand. We discover ambivalences about the human condition, about the emotional impact of the inevitability of imprisonment. In these drawings unmistakable internal meanings determine the formal unity—the solid architecture of the pictorial space. However, in these two cycles the artist seems to be striving toward an expression of the ineffable through hints of depth in color, space, and content. Both cycles rely on the subjective utterance of the lonesome artist’s soul and on the thrust within the pictorial space toward both earthly and cosmic mysteries that transcend all personal experience.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.