November 04 - January 07, 2012
Entre feu et glace
galerie jerome de noirmont

exhibition release



After the Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and in Kiel, Germany, the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris devoted a large retrospective to AR Penck in 2008. Here the French public discovered the strength and the extent of this great, secretive German artist’s work.  After his early underground works in East Germany, the basis of his artistic approach became clear in the large exhibition halls that exposed his magnificent Standart series of 1970-72 and in his large paintings, including the famous Weltbild and Systembild.  This approach is the search for an understandable, pictorial language that anyone could reproduce, based on the use of simplified figures, signals and symbols.

This new, personal exhibition from November 4, 2011 until January 7, 2012 is the fifth at the gallery since 1996.  It unveils his latest paintings, the fruit of four years of work since 2007.  Entitled Between Fire and Ice, this exhibition gives us the latest pictorial investigations of AR Penck, in his constant back and forth between abstraction and figuration, between expressing his own feelings and didactic construction.

At the time Penck creates his first Weltbild painting in 1961 as a response to the construction of the Berlin Wall, he attempts to free himself from his first creations influenced by impressionism and expressionism. He uses a "reduction of means" to access the abstract, considered here as a key to achieving the universality of pictorial expression. The Standart, this human figure with very simple forms, appeared in 1964. It is the perfect illustration of this approach that comes from attempting systematic classification of visual actions and interactions.

Also during the 60´s, the artist explores other artistic experiments with Systembild, coming from his deep interest in cybernetics and information theory.  These "system-paintings" show figures in motion, like the "small stick men that send signals and information."

Over the years, this very didactic approach to painting fuses with the expressionist vision of the subject, a vision coming from the artist´s reactions to events and the world around him.  After his move to the West in the 80s his palette becomes multicolored, in contrast to the reduced palette used in the previous years underground. The chromatic range, bright or dark, varies depending on the whims of his experiments with Western societies, between hope and disillusionment...

Today, the exhibition Entre feu et glace (Between Fire and Ice) synthesizes AR Penck’s latest reflections on the balance to reach between the visualization of his emotions, therefore a more expressionist and chaotic painting, and the radicality of a methodical composition from cold, neutral thoughts.

This takes on a particular emphasis when we look at On the methods of painting, the exhibition which took place at the gallery from November 17, 2000 to January 13, 2001.  Here Penck established a dialogue with Descartes, seeing a similarity in the basis of Discourse on the Method and his own creative approach.  The paintings presented at that time already alternated between figuration and abstraction with a clear enough distinction between the two, depending on the topic, according to whether it belonged to the representation (the painter against the philosopher) or the theoretical discourse.

Today, in the new paintings, there is again this confrontation between extremes, reflecting Penck´s vision of our contemporary world. And so, the harshness of a city in winter (Stadt im Winter, 2007) confronts the warm intensity of the natural elements, that of the sun or volcanoes, so well illustrated in Elementarkräfte (Elemental Forces), 2009.

Most of these new compositions are much more complex. They integrate within them the whole duality of Penck’s approach, the expressionistic and disorderly representations of his emotions mingling with a didactic iconography, minimal and radical, coming from his pictorial theories. And so, in the painting which gives its name to the exhibition, "the fire of impulsive expression and the coldness of construction confront each other" as the artist himself points out.

Actually, Penck wants to show us that the truth, be it artistic, emotional or historical, is not located in these extremes but emerges, rather, between the confrontation of two opposites. The artist alludes to the difficulty of making abstraction and figuration coexist, the emotional and the rational, transferring his analysis of our geo-political reality to his artistic questions.

In this way, Trennung (Separation) created in 2008, illustrates at once an intellectual and political division with its depiction of a black man located in a red and white outside space next to a white man trapped in a confined space.  

Among the twenty or so works on display, many include the representation of a snake, including Sehnsucht und Hoffnung (Hope and Desire), 2009, or Halluzination, 2009.  Penck considers the snake an especially mystical animal, embodying very strong desire.  His work entitled Snake in the Night was painted during the fall of the Berlin Wall and was made to represent the aspirations of the East Germans who wanted all of the West.

In Klarheit der Vokal (Clarity of Vowels), 2009, the snake alludes to Surrealism and its search for a balance between two seemingly contradictory states: dream and reality, fantasy and theory...  Here, a cheerful, red snake symbolizing the foundations of desire slips into a very structured tangle of vowels and consonants which symbolizes the foundations of the mind.  Penck makes reference to Dali´s Taxi pluvieux (Rainy Taxi), an absurd-looking installation at the International Exhibition of Surrealism in 1938 where a female mannequin was seated in a taxi equipped with a shower.  After 15 days, the mannequin was covered with snails and had became the portrait of Dorian Gray, therefore a work of art from a surrealist point of view!

 The 23 paintings that make up this exhibition reflect the artistic maturity that the German artist has reached today.  They show the level of accomplishment he has achieved in his painting which remains expressionistic yet with much more limited movements than that of the earlier years.  All this while remaining within the framework of his pictorial theories, which are no longer limited to his initial, essentially idiomatic artistic quest. More than 30 years after his move to the West, the artist seems to have finally gained some peace of mind !