Günther Förg

Fascination can result from an attraction to what is really only a mirage: what fascinates cannot be grasped, and the closer one gets to it the more elusive it becomes. Many critics report a similar experience in dealing with the work of Günther Förg: if they follow their attraction to the work, the pictures they are confronted with are incomprehensible. An essay from the catalogue for a Förg retrospective three years ago is entitled, “You might think there was nothing to see.”

Through its supposed emptiness, however, Förg’s work demands a search for content and the concrete. The critic cited above, for example, uses his confrontation with the material emptiness of the paintings as a way to find meaning. Thus Förg’s work engenders a broad range of reactions. It is not astonishing that critics advise viewers not to resist its magic, for those who do can expect to encounter only its seemingly arbitrary, empty aspects. Actually, critics might have a greater tendency to fall into the abyss of emptiness than the uninitiated public, but then this emptiness is an important aspect of Förg’s work. His paintings exude emptiness—even the new ones of screens or lattices and agglomerations of circles against bright color fields. The circle forms suggest stylized flower shapes, or else the kind of revolution around a center that can stand as a metaphor for focusing on a problem. The paintings are saturated with gray, and seem dark and melancholy.

These paintings appear empty not because there is nothing to see in them, but, paradoxically, because of the plethora of referents they evoke: an overabundance that tosses them into a void. It is as in Förg’s Italian photographs, where one always faces both single architectural monuments and a lot of unnecessary-looking subsidiary elements—steps, squares, the white lines of a parking lot, which supplement the coolness and rationality of the architecture by taking the Teutonic elements one step further. Förg’s use of color and structure recalls the Modernist attempts at utopian vision, a vision he clearly does not share. He remains loyal to the tradition of abstract painting only as long as he sees how to distance himself from its absolute claims. Space is not ideal; determined by the viewer’s perception, its referents are variable. Förg’s work gains immeasurably through this awareness: the more references there are, the more the atmosphere they create seems to evaporate.

Wolf Jahn

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.