Lukas Duwenhögger

Galerie Buchholz | Cologne, Elisenstraße 4-6

A penchant for the old-fashioned and the decorative, combined with a certain mannered artificiality, are often considered hallmarks of camp. Lukas Duwenhögger’s oil paintings, which hark back to the painterly style of the 19th-century plein air painters, are made up of just such traits. In his work he fondly indulges relationships between light and shadow, and his colors glow like those of Gustave Caillebotte. Small details, such as the spread fingers of a man smoking as he crosses the street, or a hand languidly resting on a hip, evoke the mood of the 19th-century dandy as much as the self-conscious appropriation of those mannerisms by queer culture today.

For this reason the label of “figurative” does little justice to Duwenhögger’s pictures; “conceptual” would be a better term. Unlike works of art that can be considered classically “camp,” Duwenhögger’s paintings stress signs and their interpretation. A text he composed for this show describes the concept behind his installation as “the gaze of homosexual panic of a homosocially structured avant-garde.” His source for the installation in this show was a work by the Finnish painter Askeli Gallen Kallela (1865–1931); its title, Probleema (Problem), was also, the title of Duwenhögger’s installation. Kallela’s painting depicts four bohemians strenously combating, in their own way, the decadence of their age, brooding together in the private guest-room of a hotel restaurant, racking their brains to create a new world order.

Duwenhögger has reconstructed the atmosphere in Kallela’s painting by setting up a wooden hut within the gallery’s space. At most seven people can fit at one time into this small structure, its narrow dimensions heightening the intimacy of the act of looking, whether at a painting or at another, perhaps desired, object. Into this hut, opposite a larger painting depicting the four bohemians in Kallela’s image, Duwenhögger hung four smaller paintings, each of which depicts a male figure seen from behind. The viewer becomes almost an accomplice of the four bohemians, inflicting his own “privileged gaze” on the men whose backs face him, but Duwenhögger also set up a bench facing the larger picture, inviting the viewer to linger before it, thus turning the contemplative bohemians into contemplated objects.

The most fascinating element of Duwenhögger’s work is its ability to capture a feeling of nostalgic, world-weary withdrawal while striking at the very heart of the contemporary.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.