Walter Dahn

Monika Sprüth Galerie

As a member of the artists’ collective Mülheimer Freiheit (Mülheim freedom) during the early ’80s, Walter Dahn was one of the leading figures among the so-called Neue Wilden, whose neo-Expressionist paintings, with their vivid coloration and primitivistic narratives, brought the movement such fame. In 1984, however, Dahn moved almost entirely away from painting with brushes and paint, choosing instead to follow in the tradition of his teacher Joseph Beuys by creating installations and performing at various sites.

For some time now, painting has again formed an integral part of Dahn’s project. At the start of this new phase he created small canvases incorporating texts related to pop stars or derived from lyrics, but his recent paintings—produced in collaboration with photographer and writer Philip Pocock—are more extravagant and multi-leveled. Blurry words and sentences are casually written over these images; the texts have been lifted from song titles and snatches of lyrics by Palace, Pavement, American Music Club, Bob Dylan, and Charlie Rich. Among other things, these works mirror Dahn’s long involvement with music—he has performed and recorded with the band #9 Dream in Cologne.

At first glance, it appeared that, with these new paintings, Dahn had chosen to favor more graphic and sculptural elements rather than painterly ones. On closer inspection, however, it became clear that the grounds have been painted in such a way that they subtly suggest the presence of multiple planes. A grayish coloration, vertical lines drawn in red, and horizontal lines made with ballpoint pen, caused the paintings to look remarkably like recycled writing paper. Dahn’s method led one to wonder whether he was presenting scrupulously accurate copies of original documents, or, perhaps, questioning the possibility of completely reproducing anything.

The sculptures that also appeared in this show revealed a similar impulse. These miniature reconstructions of houses from the American South are based on a legendary series of photos Walker Evans shot for Fortune Magazine in an attempt to document the living conditions of the American rural population. In constructing these replicas, Dahn used his imagination to complete the sides of the buildings that aren’t visible in the photographs; thus, these houses, which have been lovingly reconstructed out of burned and painted stones, wood, and broken branches, serve at once as fiction and documentation. A sculpture that was also included, a model of Elvis’ birthplace, reflected Dahn’s attempt to associate these houses with themusic of the South, the cradle of rock ’n’ roll. Both the paintings and the sculptures in this show were freighted with the emotional depth, the romanticism, that drives much of Dahn’s work.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Tarnslated from the German by David Jacobson