Armin Boehm

Armin Boehm’s painting paradoxically concerns itself with ways of rendering invisibility visible. At the same time, his work constantly thematizes light. In the large-format nocturnal views of high-rise facades in the series “Untitled (Riot),” 2007–, for instance, apartment lights and what might be street lamps glow in the darkness as faint notes of color. These pictures are based on motifs from the Parisian banlieues, generalized as nonplaces and atmospherically heightened by being repeatedly painted over in glazelike layers. The isolated light sources floating above the image seem only to lend the penetratingly cold blackness even more weight. Boehm juxtaposes such images of an infinity “out there” with a quintessentially subjective space: the human countenance. This is made explicit in the portraits Haló, 2009, and Se Taire, 2008. These mostly black-and-white paintings show a man and a woman, respectively, in half-profile within medallion-like oval borders. The ovals are made of yarn glued to the painting, as are three rays whose focal point lies in the right eye of each figure. The difference in the materials emphasizes vision in all its ambiguity: the opaque, the transparent, even the spiritual or visionary.

Boehm understands darkness, darkening, and diffusion as painterly means—as manifested, say, in the laborious processes of overpainting and effacement. At the same time, darkness is also understood thematically: as the mysterious, occult element associated with deep intuition that eludes the light of rationality. What is “objectively” seen cannot be kept wholly separate from a subjective gaze. So Boehm concerns himself with various scientific, philosophical, and esoteric approaches, including quantum mechanics, which renders “the possibility of a materialistic view of the world . . . obsolete, because completely new concepts of the differences between object, subject, and the world have to be developed. That is a form of counter-enlightenment,” Boehm maintains, “and it is at precisely this point that art again moves into a new sacral sphere.”

In this light, it is fitting that Se Taire is based on a portrait of the Russian occultist Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–1891). The French se taire means “to fall silent” or “to maintain silence”—in keeping, for example, with the famous last sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (1922). By understanding darkness as the visual pendant of silence, Boehm creates a quality of appearance that combines the visible with the darkness of subjective intuition. One of the show’s rooms in particular made this especially clear: Boehm had the walls painted gray, dimmed the lights to a minimum, and hung a selection of small-format works off-center in two corners of the room. On two round mirrored tables, a selection of books marked out the thematic field: Along with works by Stanisław Lem or Werner Heisenberg were Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater on Occult Chemistry I (1908), The Coming Race (1874) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Martin Heidegger’s Die Technik und die Kehre (The Question Concerning Technology) (1954), and an anthology titled Künstliche Menschen: Golems, Homunculi, Androiden und lebende Statuen (Artificial Humans: Golems, Homunculi, Androids and Living Statues) (1971). Readings and paintings, all shrouded in a diffuse light, provided commentary on one another—demonstrating that it takes intuition to make an image complete.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.