Berlin

Johannes Kahrs

daadgalerie

A telephone card based on Johannes Kahrs’ painting HIT, 1994, is being issued to commemorate his receipt of the International Schlumberger Award for Art. Ironically, this work is the realistic portrait of a woman who faces the viewer with closed eyes, her hands held against her ears as if to block out noise, she looks as if she is pressing her face against a pane of glass.

In most of his works, he uses photographs from newspapers as models from which he creates large easel paintings, which have a stylistic affinity to the work of Gerhard Richter. His backgrounds disappear into a field of cloudy grays that obscures any possible identification of a particular situation, but in these works the viewer is not even given the temporal or thematic reference points provided, for example, in Richter’s “RAF” series. Instead of giving us social reality in the raw—as one might expect in those paintings that depict war victims and other victims of violence—he covers everything with an art-historical veneer: Kahrs emphasizes minimal color changes—for example, from milky gray to a bottle-green—as if he were trying to obey Impressionist notions of perception; incorporates text fragments; or paints over facial and body parts with black rectangles. The stump of an upper thigh remains an abstract surface in Mann mit amputiertem Bein (Man with amputated leg, 1993) so that instead of identifying with the subject of the painting the viewer’s experience of the work becomes fragmented and Kahrs’ victims remain mute.

Recognizing the unrepresentability of the subject, even on a political level, Kahrs favors perceptual models grounded in painterly practice: how does a blue shadow on a red ground achieve an intensity that comes close to that of an eye that is swollen shut? In this way, both form and content reflect the daily experience of violence, a strategy that has already reached rather mannered levels in what one might call the post-Actionistic works of Andres Serrano, Paul McCarthy, and Damien Hirst.

Harald Fricke

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.