Ludwig Bette

Galerie Philomene Magers

In his exhibition “Eisenglimmer” (“Micaceous iron ore,” but more generally “Iron glimmers”), Ludwig Bette restricted his palette to black, white, and various shades of gray. Along with titanium white and acrylic gel, he used micaceous iron ore, from which the show gets its name. That Bette should draw the title of his show from the color he uses is not insignificant: Bette’s large-format paintings in this gallery’'s clear white rooms are every bit as cool, as matter- of-fact, as the title would indicate. This play on the relation between the figurative and the discursive points to the artist’s affinity with his teacher Gerhard Merz.

“The Painter as Architect” ushers in a new phase in Bette’s still relatively young career. The title is programmatic, not only for his current works, but also for those early paintings that, at times, make quite concrete reference to the architecture that surrounds them. The early pigment and acrylic pictures can, in fact, be read as a paraphrase of the architectural styles of the early part of this century. Theo van Doesburg, Gerrit Rietveld, and above all Ludwig Mies van der Rohe are the spiritual forebears of this perfect, clearly structured hard-edged painting.

In his current work, Bette deals with the relation of painting to architecture, using found images, which he paints in more or less photorealist fashion. However, in enlarging these images with the aid of a copier, these motifs become uncanny, an impression at times intensified by his chosen subjects: death masks, a soldier on patrol, fascist architecture. What is disturbing about these paintings is the contradiction between their cold, rational surfaces, which spurn all painterly pathos, and the terror that their subject ought to inspire. Bette’s seemingly neutral and objective approach to his subject matter masks the fact that his work engages in a discourse on painting and its relation to architecture. From Juan Gris’ still lifes to Malevich’s black squares to Duchamp’s readymades, Bette’s works enlist the art history of our century. He even included his own brand of early Constructivist works, which are painted in “micaceous iron ore,” while architectural details, such as a double T-beam and a view of a neoclassical building by Troost in Munich are often the starting points. The notion of painting as the organization of simple, clearcut basic elements is the thread of Bette’s work; he demands as much clarity and rigor of painting as he does of architecture.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.