Nine years after the exhibition deutschemalereizweitausenddrei (2003), which drew large audiences, in the summer of 2012 the Frankfurter Kunstverein
is once again presenting an exhibition solely dedicated to painting. Under the title Painting from Uncertain Places the show includes the work of Tilo Baumgärtel (Leipzig), Susanne Kühn (Freiburg), Antje Majewski (Berlin), and Hannes Michanek (Frankfurt), four artists who are well aware of the fetish-like character that figurative painting is presumed to haveand of its ambivalent relationship to the art market, the reproach of it being decorative, and how readily it can be appropriated for purposes of representation.
The exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein demonstrates how open and layered figurative painting can be, when artists are conscious of the illusionary potential of the medium. It reveals the inherent capacity of these works to create worlds of their own, thus raising questions as to the role and place of the individual in the world.
The paintings by the four artists present inventions of worlds dominated by nature, culture, or society, which have the appearance of uncertain places and thus have the appearance of spaces that are negotiable and indefinite. The common thread running through the paintings of the exhibition is the image of the human figure in indeterminate settings. Through their careful compositions the artists create a layered sense of atmosphere, giving rise to compelling images of imaginary worlds, which tend to convey a sense of the present instead of a critical analysis of the contemporary. The works are open-ended (counter-)propositions and new articulations of the alternative paths that representative painting has continuously been exploring since the 19th century, in response to the then new documentary medium of fotografie.
In Susanne Kühns paintings compacted architectural interiors transition into undefined environments. The focual point of the images are individual figures that emphasizethrough either their stance, positioning, or gazethe shift from the interior to the exterior. The works are always hybrid compositions, which are additively compiled from a mixture of landscape, portrait, and still life paintingfamiliar elements that seem alien in such configurations. The spatial arrangements in Kühns imagery often makes references to European Renaissance painting (such as the works of Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, Jan van Eyck, Filippo Lippi, Petrus Christus, Rogier van der Weyden), which seems to be populated by elements from the present. They raise questions as to the relationship of the individual to the world and visa versa. Both the interiors as well as the outside environments developed in Kühns paintings seem simultaneously askew and fragmented. The inside and outside are rarely joined but seem to compete in cool disparity to one another.
Charged with associations and suggesting a certain sense of the mystical, Tilo Baumgärtels paintings show figures and fabulous animal-human beings in shadowy, dream-like spaces or landscapes. The works are full of allusions to settings and scenes that one could attribute to road movies, catastrophe films, fairytale and fanstasy movies, and in particular the films of Davi Lynch. Baumgärtel creates scenarios that unfold on the peripheryisolated country roads, back courtyards, hidden coves or valleyswhere he places his figures and has them play out certain actions. They are lonely subjects who have been thrown into a world that looks like a surreal film.
The starting point of Baumgärtels work is a mental play with fragments from everyday, personal observations, on the one hand, and the flood of mass media images, on the other. The generally cool atmosphere, depth of space, and unrealistic tones of his work attest to this painter as a master subliminal tension and subtle distortion. Seeming both real and fantastical, the indicated narratives are not able to escape an inherent sense of standstill, evoking an oppressive, dream-like twilight state that oscillates between reality and fiction. Full of intuitions and mystery, the worlds that Baumgärtel conveys are both alienating and familiar, uncertain and certain at the same time.
The brilliant colors of Hannes Michaneks paintings recall the expansive landscapes of the world dating from the early renaissance. Views from above show tiny architectural configurations, villages embedded in sweeping topographies of hills, mountains, lakes, and oceans, which have the appearance of ideal landscapes or all-encompassing depictions of the universe. In this world many events seem to be taking place at the same timeinfluencing on another in all their diversity and possibly also their incompatibility. Different individuals are engaged in tasks, alone or in groups, and the landscape itself seems to have broken down into contrasting sites and areas. And yet everything unfolds simultaneously in the same topsy turvy world-as-it-is that Michanek presents here. A multiplicity of events, memories, states, and prophecies are layered on top of one another in a single instance.
In contrast to the religious themes addressed in such renaissance birds-eyeview landscapes, Michanek presents an eminently contemporary view of the world, thus updating a topos of art history.
Antje Majewski selects her media depeding on the questions posed by her choice of content. Her interdisciplinary oeuvre includes multimedia installation, collections, films, and performances, in addition to painting. She always works on a project-oriented basis, and the results are cycles, series, and cooperations, never solitary, individual works. Notable is her consistent focus on the shifting relationship between form and content and on the potential of artistic expression as alternating between immediacy and mediation. Both her photorealistic, figurative painting as well as her complex video and dance performances repeatedly address existential topics such as friendship, love, masquarade, play, death, and mystery. Her subject matter centers on the psychology of the individuals, groups, and communities in relation to social norms and the history of such norms as situated in the uncertainties of society.