Berlin

Anna Oppermann, Paradoxical Intentions (To Lie the Blue Down from the Sky) (detail), 1988–92, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: r.e.m./Hans-Georg Gaul.

Anna Oppermann, Paradoxical Intentions (To Lie the Blue Down from the Sky) (detail), 1988–92, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: r.e.m./Hans-Georg Gaul.

Anna Oppermann

Galerie Barbara Thumm

Anna Oppermann, Paradoxical Intentions (To Lie the Blue Down from the Sky) (detail), 1988–92, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: r.e.m./Hans-Georg Gaul.

Any one of Anna Oppermann’s “ensembles” is something like a woman-made big bang. Originating in a physical and conceptual nucleus, it expands in space and time. Some could potentially keep evolving into infinity, while others might reach a point of stasis or even shrink. Despite the works’ scale and material heterogeneity, Oppermann expressly avoided the term installation. Paintings, photographs, painted-on photographs, drawings, found images, texts, fragments objects, mirrors—these are the elements of her universes. Some are hot, detailed, dense, and intricate; others are cool, measured, and accessible, welcoming the gaze of the observer and researcher.

The reinstallation of Oppermann’s works allows for a certain degree of flexibility, which keep them from being mere memorials to their original incarnations now that they must be presented without the participation of the artist, who died in 1993 at the age of fifty-three. Paradoxe Intentionen (Paradoxical Intentions), begun in 1988 and completed four years later, has at its core a domestically scaled shrine that Oppermann pieced together from fragments of blue and red glass; it is the backdrop to an intense arrangement of Polaroids—mostly self-portraits—and small-scale drawings, many of which depict these very photographs as they sit on and around the shrine. This is one of the organizing principles of the ensemble as a whole: a kind of mise en abyme. As Paradoxical Intentions proliferated and gave birth to ever more parts over the years, Oppermann took stock of its growth with her camera and then made these photographs (mostly colored, on canvas) part of the ensemble, too. The work is thus a self-generating, self-observing organism that simultaneously devours itself and belches itself out.

The color blue is also one of the ensemble’s conceptual leitmotifs, evoking the poetic German idiom for telling shameless lies, “Das Blaue vom Himmel Herunterlügen,” literally “To lie the blue down from the sky.” This is the ensemble’s subtitle and appears on one of the work’s many handwritten panels, which form a web of references alluding to the color blue or meditating on perception, reflection, and self-expression. Here, Oppermann quoted such diverse figures as Ingeborg Bachmann, Lewis Carroll (needless to say, the ensemble includes a number of mirrors), and the sixth-century Chinese Zen master Sengcan.

Oppermann’s first ensembles evolved around 1968, emerging almost organically out of her canvases of the same period: fragmented, multi-perspective, kaleidoscopic images that sit somewhere between an LSD aesthetic and such predecessors as Rayonism and Surrealism. Many of the paintings already incorporated writing in the form of small painted or collaged notes. Their explosive Pop colors, however, are in vivid contrast to the typical stern and pensive black and white of the ensembles—Paradoxical Intentions, with its vibrant blue, being a radiant exception.

Expanding into space and embracing all media except the moving image, Oppermann’s open structures let her represent the many nonhierarchical layers of the thinking that went into her work, allowing chains of associations to loop, twist, and propagate. Her ensembles are not encyclopedias, or even encyclopedia entries. They are more like scrapbooks or diaries, often based on personal or artistic concerns. From today’s possibly nostalgic perspective, they are something like the analog precursor to today’s “post-Internet” installation art that’s struggling just as much as hers did to locate the self and to figure out what it does and knows. But while today’s generation seeks the self’s reflection in interconnected flows of information, Oppermann was still looking into mirrors.

Astrid Mania