There was a distinct curatorial feel to this exhibition, which featured a selection of Martha Jungwirth’s paintings made between 1987 and 2005 alongside works by Albert Oehlen and by Matthias Schaufler from 2011 and 2012. Far from simply covering 25 years of work, the exhibition presented the twelve paintings that comprised this show with a convincing comparative approach.
As the press release promised, the hanging underscored how these artists share a direct approach to painting; the formal aspects of their respective practices took precedence over any theoretical or thematic idea.
Five medium-format works by Jungwirth formed the heart of the show. Painted in oil on cardboard and mounted on canvas, they speak of another generation – a time in the early 1990s when Oehlen was just beginning to paint his ‘computer pictures’ and when Schaufler was still studying under Martin Kippenberger at Frankfurt’s Städelschule. Jungwirth’s paintings belong to a tradition of painting that operates between abstraction and figuration – expressive, spontaneous compositions – where colour and brushstrokes appear both as ends in themselves and as mediums for representation. In spite of their abstract formal idiom, the figurative quality of her works is brought to the fore by titles like Selbstporträt (Self-Portrait, 1987). In this light, the oil paintings by Oehlen and by Schaufler could be read as contemporary comments on this approach.
Schaufler’s large-format diptych Imkerin III (Kirchheim-Teck) (Beekeeper III, Kirchheim-Teck, 2011–12) – with its spirals and whorls of colour – initially remains non-figurative. But seen with the title in mind, the buzzing lines and circles appear as a representation of an angry swarm of bees. In his Selbstporträt (April) (2012), the bright, brittle pastel tones gel even more clearly into a form oscillating similarly between figuration and abstraction. The head-like form is strident, aggressive and latently morbid, contrasting with Jungwirth’s more peaceful figures. While Schaufler’s motifs play on ambivalence, Oehlen’s untitled works (both 2012) refer largely to themselves. They seem to have developed according to the principle of ‘finger painting’ as entirely abstract, free-floating, self-referential painting systems.
Delicate and coarse smears of colour form indefinable structures against a white background. While the application of the paint directly by hand gives the works a hint of physicality, the obviously calculated composition lends them a reserved, reflexive quality.
The success of this exhibition was due above all to the ingenious hanging, which highlighted formal connections, only to tease out historical and discursive ones. The show accomplished the rare feat of postulating similarities without obscuring differences.
Robert Grunenberg in: frieze issue 7, Winter 2012 (Translation by Nicholas Grindell)