Günther Förg: Works from the Friedrichs Collection
German / English
Günther Förg united the antagonistic extremes of modernism, perpetuating their unredeemed possibilities and keeping them alive. He stood on the brink of a present in which modernity hasn’t been lost but remains as yet unaccomplished. In all their sensuality, Förg’s paintings are “temporal images.” They have a history which may be hidden but can always be felt beyond their ostensible abstractness. And his often small, simple and laconic gestures are elementarily human; they gain greatness due to their vulnerability...
This book engages with the complete scope of Günther Förg’s oeuvre, driven by the passion of the collectors Brunhilde and Günther Friedrichs. The main focus is on Förg’s abstract paintings, which interrogate modernist art in loosely executed colorfields and patterns. With the rough surfaces of his masks, stelae and reliefs, Förg extends painting into the exhibition space, and with his wall paintings he turns that space itself into a work of art. In his photographs, he captures modernist architecture with the vibrancy of a snapshot, and in his exhibitions, he opens up a dialog between all these elements.
Starting from a conversation with the collectors, the book explores each of these fields in its own essay: Christian Malycha writes about Förg’s paintings, Hannah Eckstein about the work’s sculptural development into the space. Ulrich Loock analyses the photographic oeuvre and Regine Ehleiter discusses the numerous artist’s books in which Förg expanded on his artistic concepts. The work’s relationship with architecture is illuminated by Andreas Denk and architect Uwe Schröder, who built the Haus auf der Hostert for the Friedrichs with their art collection on mind. There are personal reminiscences from fellow artists Herbert Kopp, Olaf Metzel and André Butzer, as well as curator Paul Schimmel in conversation with gallerist Max Hetzler, in which we get closer to the personality of an often unruly artist. Through these different perspectives, the multi-faceted relationships between the works in the collection, and more generally Förg’s artistic thought, become more evident, while the collectors’ own view of his work is reflected in their comprehensive yet precise selection.
EXPRESSIVENESS RESTRAINED, FORM UNLEASHED
By and by Förg forges his own tradition reaching from early Expressionism via Abstract Expressionism and Minimal Art up to Conceptualism, uniting both cool analytical seriality and fragile gestural sensuousness. Independently, and unlike any other painters of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Förg, with a keen sense, opts for precise form as well as for expressive gesture. He adopts conceptual austerity as well as an unbound painterly expression. He takes the liberty to bring together such incompatible counterparts as Judd and Baselitz in order to unite them as one – in order ‘to explore a contradictory clarity of form with an expressionist handling’.
In 1973 he paints his first paintings. Grey paintings and sienna ones. In vast sways he applies black paint onto white canvases with a sponge. Albeit these paintings are quite colourous as they are highly receptive of the chromatic ambient light. Consistently, and with utmost consequence, Förg paints one painting per week. With every painting he assures himself of his material, acquaints himself with his colour, his own idiom and language, his own expression. Förg’s paint is never thick and pastose but thin. He incorporates the ground and lifts it into attendance through the transparent colour. From the outset, Förg lays bare his paintings in all openness.
In 1976, he substitutes the canvas in his paintings for copper or aluminium sheets, ‘to see how this changed the feel of them’. Small, relief-like image-objects emerge: raw copper on wood. An upright plane, open at the top and bottom, lined with a protruding edge on each side. The shining surface is self-contained and still absorbs the surrounding space in tender reflections. Actually, a work like that seems to be extracted from architecture with its obvious frame, possibly from wall panelling. It appears pictorially and, at the same time, like an architectural module. Due to this, Förg leaves behind the two-dimensionality of the canvas and gradually moves into physical space.
His first solo exhibition in 1980, in a picturesque Art Nouveau building, is nearly a ‘non-exhibition’. The space and the walls remain empty. And all that Förg shows is one grey painting covering the gallery’s ceiling. Architecture becomes his vantage point and he meets it with elemental severity. His gesture is elemental because it hones the aesthetic experience towards space, place, body. In face of the spatial structure and the painterly intervention, every beholder is physically challenged to find and uphold his or her uncertain position. The wall paintings have ‘to be opposed by one’s own body…the counterweight of one’s body…’