Hamburg

View of “Hanns Kunitzberger,” 2017. From left: Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 früh (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Early), 2017; Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 mitte (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Middle), 2017; Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 spät (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Late), 2017.

View of “Hanns Kunitzberger,” 2017. From left: Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 früh (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Early), 2017; Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 mitte (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Middle), 2017; Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 spät (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Late), 2017.

Hanns Kunitzberger

Galerie Vera Munro

View of “Hanns Kunitzberger,” 2017. From left: Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 früh (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Early), 2017; Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 mitte (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Middle), 2017; Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 spät (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Late), 2017.

Compacted voids throbbing with color, replete with an abundant emptiness: Hanns Kunitzberger’s paintings put the critic in the position of having to resort to such paradoxical descriptions. Despite their powerful presence and quiet clarity, they elude the gaze, metamorphosing before the beholder’s eye, their diffused chromatic spaces never quite tangible. Their hazily opaque complexions focus representation on their own existence as pictures. Methodically inward-looking, this art is absorbed in the contemplation of color as phenomenal quality. Works such as Ende 2015 Anfang 2016 später (End of 2015 Beginning of 2016 Later), 2016, and Anfang 2013 später (Beginning of 2013 Later), 2013, both on view at Galerie Vera Munro, provide visual experiences comparable to those afforded by a piece of sky by William Turner, Qiu Shihua’s landscapes slowly materializing as though out of thin air, or the oscillation between thing and appearance in James Turrell’s fogs of color.

A native of Austria currently based in Berlin, Kunitzberger studied stage design and scenery painting and later, in the 1970s, film and theatrical directing. It was not until the 1980s that he gradually focused his creative energies on painting and sculpture. In 1996 he began work on the painting series “Bildnisse” (Likenesses) and “Abbilder” (Images)—his first purely flat and abstract color spaces—an undertaking the artist described at the time as “representing an object through the complete absence of itself.” The idea encapsulated by that contradictory formula sustains his painting to this day.

Kunitzberger, who has greatly refined his oil-painting technique over the decades, applies ultrathin transparent coats of paint to canvas or often Molino, a special fabric support. A finished painting can consist of fifty, sixty, or even more such layers. Over the course of weeks or months, he patiently adds ever so slightly different tones in a process that also suggests an effort to record the passage of time. This aspect of stored time, which is vividly present in the visual experience offered by the paintings and hovers between surface and ground, is echoed by the works’ titles. As in the examples mentioned above, Kunitzberger generally chooses designations that give vague dates, drawing attention to the timing and duration of each picture’s genesis—they are like creatures that have their own histories. But the “blurred edges” of these temporal specifications are deliberate; time, in his art, is a sphere of recollection and imagination rather than of precise definition and delimitation.

The current exhibition includes fairly intimate small and medium-size paintings. In the high-ceilinged showroom awash in light, three new large panels mounted as a triptych caught this visitor’s eye: Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 früh (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Early), Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 mitte (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Middle), and Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 spät (End of 2016 Beginning of 2017 Late), all 2017. What is unusual about them is that the artist had inserted one primary color each into the white of his compositions, breaking up the monochromatic flatness that is characteristic of most of his paintings. Ende 2016 Anfang 2017 früh features a hovering expanse of red, while the other two pictures showcase blue and yellow, respectively. These colors appear in the form of vertical fields, bounded on the left and right by only slightly narrower bands of white. Each hue achieves maximum intensity in the top third of the panel. Along the sides, especially near the top and bottom edges, the color fields blend evenly into the hazy surrounding white, the effect seeming to weave them inextricably into the pictorial space. The impression is one of color repeatedly coming to the fore and then retreating again, performing an oscillation in which at the very moment hue seems to condense into tangible physicality it dissolves into immaterial and unbounded appearance—an epiphany of paint.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.