Sunday, May 25, 2008

Neo Rauch at David Zwirner

This is an absolutely breathtaking exhibition of paintings. As we enter the new millennium, Neo Rauch is the most important painter working today.

Neo Rauch
Oil on canvas
19.69 x 15.75 inches, 50 x 40 cm
Neo Rauch and Peter Doig are two of only a few serious painters who began their careers during the wasteland years of painting at the end of the last century and managed to escape the perils of the prevailing taste and critical discourse. Sitting with another painter at the waterside bar, having a beer, after seeing the Neo Rauch exhibition at Zwirner, I asked "so, who do you think are the most important painters working today?" Neo Rauch along with Peter Doig are at the top the list but then we fell silent, the truth is we could not think of any, painting had succumbed to a deadly virus which killed off the heroic painters.

Neo Rauch
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 98.43 inches, 300 x 250 cm
Neo Rauch's paintings revive the heroic, a quest to restore painting's link to its own history, a history which has been rejected and perverted by lesser painters resorting to the 'ironic' because they lack the conviction to carry on and extend a tradition.

Neo Rauch's paintings accept paintings history at it fullest value, without qualms or the pretense that it is not important. This is in your face painting, if you are a serious painter you have to deal with Neo Rauch, not copy or emulate him, but realize what the experience of truly great paintings feels like.

Make a trip of it, go see the de Kooning's and the Pollock's at the Jewish Museum, then zip down to 19th street and see Neo Rauch. They hold up. This is a very serious statement, they hold up, there are possibly no other living painters, aside from Jasper Johns who I would even consider making such a statement about. (In all fairness to Peter Doig, I haven't seen enough of his work in person.)

Neo Rauch
Die Aufnahme
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 98.43 inches, 300 x 250 cm
The lineage of Neo Rauch's paintings cuts a furrow through through Surrealism to the present, a dreamscape of the imagination utilizing the full range of paintings pictorial devices to manifest a vision as a painting. As a painting, not just as an 'image' or a picture, these are paintings in the grandest sense of the word. They are incredibly inventive, in all aspects.

Some past reviewers of his work have gotten lost in the idea of "East German," or Soviet realism. These influences were intimately bound in his early life experiences and one would expect them to be as visible, as are the life experiences of any painter. I would say the same is true for the other peripheral contemporary influences in his paintings, what matters most, is what I see as a deeply rooted love of painting, which links these contemporary influences with paintings history, in an effort to transcend both.

Neo Rauch
Die Stickerin
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 165.35 inches, 300 x 420 cm
In order to plausibly contain his colliding and wildly disparate imagery Neo Rauch as revived a pictorial space which is an extension of the cubist box. More expansive than the shallow cubist approach, the pictorial space in Neo Rauch's paintings is closer to a stage set than anything else I can think of. I've built a few stage sets, and while a stage set allows for a simple 3D mapped space, as a pictorial space it can also logically contain seeming unrelated disparate pictorial events, without loosing a sense of the pictorial logic of the painting.

Neo Rauch
Der Garten des Bildhauers
Oil on canvas
118.11 x 165.35 inches 300 x 420 cm
This ability to make the viewer accept the paintings logic, to view the paintings pictorial space as a stage where the larger drama of contents dream can play, out is a major contribution to the history of painting. Just glancing at the small reproductions in the gallery overview, one sees an incredible juxtaposition of pictorial spaces, interior to exterior, walking the viewer into the space, or holding tightly to the surface, often all within the same painting, it is breathtaking.

Great painters have a way of making a painting look effortless and Neo Rauch's paintings feel effortless. He is a good draftsman, the paintings look like they are executed freehand, from the the imagination, but with a knowledge of what things in the world look like, convincingness. I'm not quite sure how to explain this, but these new paintings feel better painted than his earlier efforts, the paint handling is more focused, direct and more confident feeling.

If one was to imagine what a 'radical' painting would look like today, I don't suspect one would think of paintings like those of Neo Rauch. It's a surprise that these, vaguely Surrealist, somewhat traditional, representational, classically composed paintings can lay claim to being the most advanced painting of an era, but they are. Their radicalness lies in their ambition for painting itself, an ambition to restore paintings link to its historical past. Their radicalness lies in the way they expose that much of contemporary painting as nothing more than a product in search of a customer. Their radicalness lies in an expression of a way the painter can realize a dream pictorially by utilizing paintings entire language as a source of illumination.

Neo Rauch sets a standard that few painters can approach, these are paintings for the new millennium.

All images are from the David Zwirner Gallery.


Blogger eleanor greer. said...

This is a wonderful blog George, I have just stumbled across it and look forward to catching up with reading and to your future writings!

June 22, 2008 at 1:30 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

If Neo Rauch is the most important painter working today, I am the most important flatulator. Give me that, at least. I will send you!

July 23, 2008 at 2:34 AM  
Blogger Hans said...

..., but you told me that Olitski was the biggest ! ;-))

I follow Rauch's work since 1988 (still) in East German shows. He made quite a progress. I was thrilled seeing his works 1998 or 1999 in Eigen Art in Berlin, and even bought a catalogue, which I hardly could effort then. Although these new paintings I see for the first time here on your blog, his works are to me reactionary in every sense, thus bad. His big inspiration had been Gustave Courbet, who I also admire by the way. I can quite understand your enthusiasm seeing Rauch for the first (?) time. Honestly, I find your paintings much better. Lay back and go see Rauch's works again in a year, I guess your judgment will relativize.

August 31, 2008 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger George said...


I've seen several of Neo Rauch's exhibitions here in NYC over the last five or six years. My opinion of his work is based upon a close viewing of a fairly large number of his paintings. It is my feeling that of all the painters from his milieu, his work is the most ambitious for painting. You mention his interest in Courbet, my colleague suggests Durer, I see some others, regardless, he is not afraid to link back into history in an attempt to revitalize painting. I see his approach as primarily Surrealist, drawing on his own life experience for inspiration. So it seems perfectly understandable to me that he might utilize Soviet realism, and Eastern bloc printed matter as part of his repertoire. I am somewhat surprised that his paintings still elicit such a polarized response, he must be doing something right.

August 31, 2008 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

Yes, sure, there are other influences than Courbet. For me it's just a smart mixture he uses, and he is creating big bombastic nicely painted kitsch, you mentioned some of this tools. I got a bright colored book of his works last year (sorry in Georgia-Caucasus are none of his originals to see), looked a while on his works, with my conclusion, that they are filled up with everything, but essentially they are "empty", it's a sort of gigantic surreal unclear historicism, mixing everything up to something very calculated and somehow "untrue". I never took up this book again, as I felt no want to do so. As for the Young German Artists- my favorite is J.Meese- especially for the sculptures.
By the way yesterday I bought a book of Matisse's paintings on Rustaveli Av. although I have already many different books of him. In comparison to Rauch, a work of Matisse mostly does not promise more than it is, it has this level of truth what interests me.

August 31, 2008 at 8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just old social realism with a little futurism around the edges. Dated, and from a time that is past. And never truly was.

September 19, 2008 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

But Christoph Ruckhäberle is another case:

See here:

and here:

and here,christoph_ruckhaeberle,123.html

Best regards, Hans

September 19, 2008 at 3:17 PM  
Blogger George said...

Hey Hans,

I agree Ruckhäberle is interesting, I've seen a couple of his shows here in NYC and they grew on me.

I still think Neo Rauch is a better painter formally, though Ruckhäberle's imagery appears more modern.

Whatever, it's all painting from the last century and not what I'm looking at.

September 19, 2008 at 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If its Saatchi, I know it must suck.

September 19, 2008 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

Yeah, it's easy to dump everything else around, but hard to do something better. As I am from East Germany originally, it is so funny to see how everything from "Socialism" was wiped out 19 years ago, to start a "socialism" for the rich right now, and put the losses on us the poor taxpayers and our kids. Privatizing the profits and socializing the losses, how good that we artists are prepared for poor a life with hard bread, dry cheese and thin wine ;-)

September 19, 2008 at 3:59 PM  
Blogger George said...

"... a life with hard bread, dry cheese and thin wine ;-)"

Well, not so bad if you can find a little better wine,

September 19, 2008 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

You know, George, where you find ? Here in Georgia,Caucasus, the "cradle of wine" for minimum 7000 years ;-) Come over ;-)

September 19, 2008 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger George said...

Hans, You know I'd like to come one of these days.

For now, I have to settle for cheep wine.

September 19, 2008 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

In that sense, if you take the first Rauch-Painting above, "Armdrücken" Arm-Wrestling that makes a good propaganda poster for Paulson with a new Campaign of "Economic Reforms" by "Fighting the New Great Depression- We never surrender" ;-))

September 19, 2008 at 11:51 PM  

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