Michael Hauffen

Galerie Christian Gögger

Signs tell us how fast to go on the highway, indicate where the restroom is, warn us to beware of the dog, thank us for not smoking. In short, signs are everywhere, and not just the semiotic kind. There are more than a few people who think there may be a few too many. Why, then, does Michael Hauffen insist on producing hundreds more, and on covering the walls of the gallery with rows upon rows of them?

Expectations to the contrary, Hauffen’s signs seem to have nothing to do with bringing more order into the world. They distinguish themselves quite clearly from run-of-the-mill signs, even when they imitate them. Thus, the central motif of Hauffen’s paintings is a post holding up a board inscribed with phrases written in block letters. Only occasionally is this formula abandoned, for instance, the sign entitled Ikone (Icon, 1994) on which the phrase “Bitte weitergehen” (Please proceed) is written takes the form of an arrow.

Strictly speaking, Hauffen’s signs aren’t signs; rather they are images of signs. As is the case with the artist’s earlier works, stripes painted directly on the surface of his signs form an internal frame. This framing within a frame signals that this sign is not merely a placard but a metasign. On the stripes painted along the bottom of the picture plane, the name of the sign is written in capital letters. On top, the name of the artist appears like a label. For years Hauffen has been labeling his work with a word or phrase for what is pictured: the subject of the work no longer seems to be something observed and rendered by the artist, and the tide becomes a logo. This practice of transforming an artwork into something resembling a commodity is especially evident in Hauffen’s sign paintings which are produced from computer printouts and sold for the modest price of 100 DM.

The primary difference between Hauffen’s signs and those we encounter everyday is that Hauffen’s inscriptions speak to almost all situations in life—especially those of an artist. At one moment he describes feeling omnipotent: “Ab hier beginnt ein neues Kapitel der Kunstgeschichte!” (Here begins a new chapter in art history!). Another work expresses doubt: “Ich nehme alles zurück!” (I take everything back!) In fertig, 1994, Hauffen suggests that he has reached a moment of exhaustion: “Ich habe schon alles abgemalt, was mir vorgeschwebt ist.” (I have already painted everything that is waved before me.) With irony and humor, Hauffen places himself in many of the positions that an artist may occupy today.

In many works text and image stand in an amusing self-reflexive relationship, such as when the colors of the sign “Alles fließt!” (Everything flows!) appear to drip. It is not a coincidence that his catalogue entitled The Sign Park—a play on Amusement Park—in which all the signs of the exhibition and more are reproduced, brings to mind those scrapbooks in which we pasted images of our favorite sports-stars as children. Also, a number of pages are left blank and we can do nothing but hope for future entries.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from the German by Franz Peter Hugdahl.