Life Is a Dream, Part I
I first encountered the work of German artist Neo Rauch at a 2001 show in Munich. I had gone to see the Schwitters show next door and decided to take a look at the Rauch as well. At that time, I found the work memorable but not at all appealing. While I'm not sure I had seen anything quite like it before, I felt as though I had seen quite enough art that fixated on 1950s "retro" imagery in supposedly "ironic" ways, especially in hideous color combinations. OK, it's true that most of what I had seen was American whereas Neo Rauch grew up in East Germany, but I felt the aesthetic was all too familiar and that seeing monumental scenes of stolid figures having mystifying interactions with industrial machinery and ugly mid-twentieth-century architecture (in shades of mustard and dried blood, no less) just didn't strike me as very interesting. Really, I felt like I had been seeing some version of this stuff since 1981 or so, and the sooner I stopped seeing it, the happier I'd be. The 1950s may play, to my generation and those somewhat subsequent, a psychological role similar to that of the fin-de-siecle for the surrealists, but the fin-de-siecle visual world just seems more interesting to me on the whole.
Consequently, I was not exactly dying to see the Neo Rauch show in Prague. I regarded it as only slightly more enticing than the Gross Domestic Product show currently up at the municipal library, which I suppose I'll eventually get to since I admit there are artists who have done interesting work with/about excretions and secretions (Kiki Smith, for one).
To my surprise, then, I found that I kind of liked the new Neo Rauch show. It may simply be that my palate was not replete with Schwitters and Münter, or it may be that I knew I was likely to see more big canvases of retro-style figures and machinery painted in revolting color schemes. Or it may just be that I like the newer canvases better than the earlier ones. Be as that may, as I proceeded through the show I found myself increasingly drawn in and entertained. It's like weird dreams of a twisted Ostalgie. The figures initially appear to be directly from some sort of period illustration or photographic source, but they're always subject to strange distortions in scale. Supposedly the artist doesn't actually use direct sources, but I have to say that my impression was that surely he must start with some sort of photo-realist method in which he projects images of individual things onto the canvas and arranges them into a psychotic painted collage. However he comes up with this stuff, it's interesting to spend awhile wandering in his nightmare. I might just get the catalog so that I can experience the fascinating unsettling quality at will.
"It's clear there's a problematic core to them that's grounded in the Apocalypse. I approach the phenomena of this world by letting things go through me in a nonhierarchical order, and then putting together private, very personal mosaics from the filtered material. In the best case, this leads to patterns being created that point to something above and beyond what people generally attribute to the things." - Neo Rauch
Neo Rauch is all over the internet, but here are a few links. Note: the colors look much more appealing on the computer monitor, in miniature. They tend to look really abominable and sickening when towering over the viewer, which I'm sure is the artist's intent.
The Coolest Name in Art: Neo Rauch, by David Hudson
Interview with the artist at Signandsight.com
Reason without Meaning by Jerry Saltz
some works from 2006