New York

Konrad Klapheck

Edward Thorp Gallery

Although Konrad Klapheck is of the same generation as, for instance, Gerhard Richter (his fellow professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy), Klapheck’s work gives the impression of belonging to quite another time, perhaps that of Rene Magritte. Like many of the Surrealists, Klapheck finds his images in objects that are quite ordinary but obsolete or seldom used, and like Magritte in particular he renders them in a style that is as prosaic, old-fashioned, and quasi-anonymous as the objects themselves. This style is cool and fastidious, but never slick (as it invariably appears in reproduction). One feels that the paint has been patiently rubbed into the still-visible tooth of the canvas rather than laid on top of it, as though the evident mordancy of the imagery were assuaged by the bleak but forbearing tenderness of its execution.

As familiar as the depicted objects often are, their identity is divorced from their function. Multi-talented, 1992, for example, shows a pocketknife of the Swiss Army type, with its various blades and implements exposed. Oddly enough, though, there are no slots for them to retract into—they are frozen in place. The object’s complete self-enclosure amounts to a threatening blindness. Maturity, 1986, shows an old-fashioned adding machine which has been uselessly furnished with a ridiculously narrow spool of paper: impotency. Such titles, or others like Young Widower, 1987, The Charming Scatterbrain, 1990, or Limits of the Ego, 1989—behind which one divines a dour laughter—apparently suggest psychological readings, but the images thwart the very anthropomorphic conversion they solicit; rather than things seeming more “human,” the implication is that people are more like things. Fate, 1989, depicts a sewing machine. Why that, particularly? Surely it must be an allusion to one of the most famous images in early Modernist literature, that encounter of a sewing machine with an umbrella on an operating table from Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, 1890, which gave rise to Surrealism and more. But Klapheck’s sewing machine meets no umbrella, nor does it rest on a table; it inhabits what Michel Foucault once called a heterotopia: one in which its subtraction from any syntax, even that of the fantastic or incongruous, disturbs the nexus of word and thing, representation and perception.

Klapheck’s sewing machines, motorcycles, adding machines, and occasionally things less easily identified (The Party, 1992, depicts a gas mask of the type Israeli civilians used during the Gulf War) are rendered with great clarity of outline and volumetric concreteness, as though to flatter the eye’s desire for something it can fully grasp, and yet they also take on a disturbing categorical opacity, an uncanny intimation that they merely disguise some other form of existence whose significance is completely inaccessible. Vision and understanding are thereby sundered. The depicted objects seem as though they ought to symbolically represent something other than what they are, but their mutely insistent thingness or heterogeneity somehow crowds out whatever room for interpretation the paintings offer.

Barry Schwabsky