Lukas Duwenhögger

Galerie Buchholz | Cologne, Elisenstraße 4-6

In his story “The Figure in the Carpet” (1896) Henry James depicts a young critic who, in search of the hidden key to a work by a writer he admires, not only fails to find it, but also loses all joy in the work’s detail. In titling his exhibition “Figures in a Carpet,” Lukas Duwenhögger seemed to be handing viewers (critics included) the first thread of the web of references he had spun here. Or would it be more accurate to say he dangled it just out of reach? Ultimately, the title can be taken as ironic, but also as an earnest warning against the desire to reduce everything to an underlying pattern, including the one that nearly every critic to encounter Duwenhögger’s paintings and installations has observed: They contain a wealth of semantic resonances that presuppose specific knowledge of homosexual codes, but that decoding is continually deferred.

This elliptical structure found an analogy in Duwenhögger’s disposal of the gallery space. Three pairs of columns tiled with light green Karadeniz mosaic stones from Turkey sketched out an imaginary space within the room. More was involved than just yoking two different geographic and cultural spaces (Turkish decor with the tiled building facades characteristic of Cologne) in And Again Imitation-Pillars (all works 2002), as this architectural intervention was titled; interior and exterior space were inverted as well. Thus an evergreen wreath, traditionally used in Germany in the ceremony for the completion of the roof of a new house, hung freely over the gallery floor. This sculptural motif (The Blessing of Their Gentleness) partly obscured Balthazar, a horizontal oval painting portraying a man lying at the edge of a swimming pool; in the foreground a grizzled dandelion releases its seeds to the wind. The man’s gaze, seemingly fixed on the viewer, was countered in the next room by another oval picture, this time in a vertical format, called Caspar, showing a dark-haired barkeeper leaning against a door frame with an ice-cream cone in one hand. In the third picture of the ensemble, Melchior, a suave but simply dressed man lights a cigarette. The only one of these figures to avert his gaze from the viewer, he stands beneath a burning street lamp whose design creates a peculiar contrast with the Mediterranean cityscape in the background—a contrast underscored by the snowflakes circling the lantern, which lend the scene its unreal, almost fairytale-like feeling.

Through the pictures’ titles and by displaying T.S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi” in the gallery, Duwenhögger indicates that the three figures are holy men of sorts, perhaps to be referred in turn to the figures depicted in a small painting in the entryway: Sunday Afternoon shows three workers in a cozily decorated construction trailer whose windows open onto a view of an austere modern building. Perhaps these men are supposed to be guest-workers who, just like Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior from the East, as we know—have traveled to a strange land. Sunday Afternoon compresses, as if in a mirror, several themes touched on elsewhere in the exhibition: the interpenetration of the foreign and the familiar, the alternation between journeying and rest, the juxtaposition of ornament and modem architecture—pairs of seeming opposites that Duwenhögger constantly morphs together into their alleged counterpart, thereby causing many beautiful figures in the carpet to appear.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.