Friday, July 1st, 2005

Neo Rauch: Renegaten

David Zwirner
525 W 19 Street
New York, NY  10011

May 9-June 18, 2005

Neo Rauch Heimkehr 2005 oil on canvas, 82-3/4 x 118 inches David Zwirner Gallery
Neo Rauch, Heimkehr 2005 oil on canvas, 82-3/4 x 118 inches David Zwirner Gallery

Neo Rauch is a prolific artist whose skill is put to the service of his imagination.  His large-scale, often mural size paintings at David Zwirner might seem to employ the usual grab bag of tricks other painters use, but Rauch sets himself apart with his jarring and unusual sense of space and forced perspective.  He leaves areas deliberately unrefined so that the paintings bear a real physical relationship to the act of painting and paint itself—an odd mixture for someone whose project rests so firmly upon allegory.  Shifts in scale and fragmented spaces collide.  He intuitively understands the function of these traditional devices and deliberately subverts them in an affirmation of the senses.

Rauch reinforces the disconnect his characters play in his works by bringing attention to the disjuncture between narrative representation and narration.  His coolly removed figures, prisoners, revelers, red-coated soldiers, children, and various other assortments and breeds serve as a sort of syntax in these arrangements.  He supplies us with a language and through his peculiar interpretation of painting’s classic tenets dismisses any conclusive story.  The pieces come off as highly idiosyncratic yet familiar, simultaneously loose and rigid and almost always appealing.

All of Rauch’s nearly fatalistic narrative structures are possessed with the weight of history, demise and decay.   Much has been made of his origins in Leipzig and that city’s past and influence on him and a whole new hot generation of artists.  While the legacy of East Germany and failed Communist regimes surely plays a hand in the nostalgia of some of these works, there remains a sense that this artist is not defined by borders and boundaries built from socio-political histories. He has transcended these events, these places.  He is caught in a whirl of ideas, concentrated yet unattached.  While there is an ease with which he paints, one continually gets snagged on something in his pictorial inventions.  His comic style is infused with an affected naturalism.  This affectation may well be just a shorthand the artist has developed, which, one assumes, helps him in being so productive.  Given this, it is surprising how unpredictable his paintings seem.

Whatever their source—Soviet-era propaganda or circus sideshow—all these pieces are situated in specific landscapes.  Chosen locations reverberate the function of the scene.  Rauch brings mise-en-scene to a head in his chosen medium.  This device also alludes literally to the land, a sort of grounding of all the confusion and dreams.  His compositions are elegiac, anticipating the somnambulist’s awakening.  Rauch’s imagination is the site of agency that propel these latest works into a deeply interconnected world.  It’s hard to claim that someone with so much recent success can be in any way outside of a system, an outlaw.  Yet he demonstrates that artistic power resides with those who can dare to invent and think and dream and reinvigorate our senses from a hazy and image-weary sleep.