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A. R. Penck, Untitled (System Painting), 1966, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 × 37 1/2". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

A. R. Penck

Michael Werner | New York

A. R. Penck, Untitled (System Painting), 1966, oil on canvas, 42 3/4 × 37 1/2". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

With some sixty years of artmaking behind him and impressive honors to show for it, A. R. Penck nonetheless remains a somewhat misunderstood figure. Self-taught, and a relatively late émigré from what was then still the German Democratic Republic in 1980—contemporaries such as Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter had moved west as early as 1957 and 1961, respectively (in Richter’s case just before the Berlin Wall went up that year)—Penck emerged at a tangent to the Western neo-avant-gardes even as he remained untouched by the traditional representational criteria taught by the East German academies. And all this took place sub rosa: The East German Ralf Winkler was not exhibiting in the West under the pseudonym A. R. Penck on a whim.

If Penck’s relatively secluded development goes some way toward accounting for his oblique relation to the contemporary art scene in which he

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