Michael Biberstein


Clouds high in the sky, misty canyons, a bright horizon in the distance, or as in Chinese landscape paintings, the sudden appearance of rocky crags release, in Michael Biberstein’s paintings, a flood of associations. There is no fixed point in these paintings, and the viewer’s eye moves constantly over the surface. Even where a primeval landscape is put into perspective by its juxtaposition with a far-off mountain range, vision is lost in the glare of light. Illusionism is used against itself, leading the viewer to the boundaries of space that are at once opened and closed.

Biberstein is not concerned with the representation of real landscapes or with quoting art history. He summons memories of visual experiences in the mountains in order to evoke unrepresentable mental landscapes, the sublimity of the inapprehensible. Jean-François Lyotard connects this sublimity to a disaster of form, which traces a loss of the real in the depiction of nature. In the beauty of Biberstein’s paintings, one may detect a sadness about this loss. But it is the impossibility of stable forms that afforded painting the freedom for figuration.

The counterpoint in this exhibition is one monochrome painting. This small, dark square—a landscape that has been painted over three times—brings illusionistic representation toward the surface as the axiom of painting. Perception is not fixed in this work, for in the last analysis the ambivalence of pure surface and its optical transcendence on a deeper level is sharpened in the monochrome.

Just as Lyotard maintains that Barnett Newman’s paintings are a sublime moment, that they don’t show it or lead to a narrative, one could also say that Biberstein’s paintings are the extension of a moment of nonlinear movement. For this moment, frozen as image, language must also be silent.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.