With the “Grenzenlos” (Boundless) group exhibition, Galerie Wolfgang Jahn in Munich is showing a representative cross-section of its portfolio of artists with a selection of current works. In pandemic times like these, which unavoidably severely curtail the cultural sector and limit what it can offer too, the chosen title can be read in a deliberately ambiguous way. The term “Boundless” refers above all to the description and remit of art to be multifaceted, to extend boundaries, to break them down with unrestricted imagination and free thoughts. In this respect, turning to and engaging with art in the current situation can be more healing than ever for your own mind, offering escape and perhaps helping you reset your own compass towards sensitivity and mindfulness in this exceptional situation. With all the individual artists having been shown at both the gallery’s branches, the fact that this is now a group exhibition, in which figurative and abstract artists from different nations and regions are united and yet clearly set apart in their own unique and distinctive way, is also a statement for solidarity and community cohesion during the crisis for the sake of art’s needs.
The exhibition combines established artists such as Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Rainer Fetting, Harding Meyer, Hermann Nitsch, Hubert Scheibl, Martin Schnur, Martijn Schuppers, Leif Trenkler and Bernd Zimmer, with shooting stars such as Michael Sailstorfer and the gallery’s new, up-and-coming artists, such as Michelle Jezierski and Christine Liebich.
Resulting in Scheibl’s expressive gestural abstractions, which can be interpreted associatively as artistic echoes of the elemental and irrepressible driving forces of nature with its urge for (self-)development but also for the constant renewal and upheaval of existing conditions, meeting the cosmic pictorial worlds of Bernd Zimmer. One of these works takes the viewer on a journey into a distant, energetically charged galaxy of fantasy full of sublime, sparkling beauty and mystical fascination with the perceived pull of a black, all-consuming hole.
The works correlate with one of Jiri Georg Dokoupil's soap bubble paintings, in which he not only allows similarly iridescent, billowing structures to fill the pictorial space, but actually creates them using soap bubbles enriched with pigments that burst on the picture carrier, which he then works on further.
This is joined by one of Paul Schwer’s fascinating sculptures, whose form resembles organic growth. In a special process, the artist moulds coloured plastic sheets into plastic flower-like structures in a fraction of time under just the right heat, permanently preserving the dynamic production process.
Rainer Fetting’s works, which are committed to figuration despite their abstract tendencies, are also expressive and striking. In a storm-lashed North Sea landscape with roaring surf, he too refers to the elemental forces of nature, which he insistently condenses into churning waves and white crests with coarsely placed brushstrokes, and contrasts these with glazed colour gradients that capture the palpable impression of wetness in the picture. In another casual drama of everyday life, it is a man driving a car using the windscreen wipers to banish the mud and rain from his field of vision that is almost palpable due to the way the paint is applied and its consistency. Stressed by what he is doing, his face is distorted behind the dirty windscreen’s field of view, while the wipers pile the associated mud on up on the left edge of the picture into an abstract mass of colour. The expressively authentic portrait of a slightly sceptical and suspicious woman confidently withstanding the gaze of the painter and viewer is also impressive. Mercilessly honest in its gestural execution and without any embellishing frills, the full-length three-quarter portrait, composed of two different formats, goes beyond mere resemblance to become a true character study of the portrayed person.
One room further on, you encounter the circular wall objects by Christine Liebich, in which jagged ornamental structures are artfully combined with spatial recesses to form tondi that are set slightly away from the wall. Liebich uses an unusual material for this: her rod-shaped structures are reinforcing iron bars, as used to stabilise reinforced concrete, which she has cut to size and then powder-coated. A material that, regardless of the aesthetics of her art, contradicts classic and “precious” sculptural materials such as marble.
In the room, Liebich’s tondi enter into dialogue with other variations of Dokoupil’s soap bubble paintings and a sculpture by Paul Schwer that winds its way upwards, evoking associations with a beguilingly colourful blossom.
This is followed by an ensemble of more recent splatter paintings by Hermann Nitsch, one of the main representatives of Viennese “Aktionism”. In contrast to his earlier works, these are now characterised by a significantly increased intensity of colour. In them, Nitsch combines the explosive structures of his massive splattering of paint with the expressive dynamics of ecstatically sensorial finger painting, the result of which buries the former structures as if under an impasto-compacted, luminous mass of paint. These works leave a tense and intense testimony of artistic action, a stirring abstraction of emotional states with the purpose of freely and uninhibitedly celebrating life in the allure and aesthetics of its unbridled extremes.
These are contrasted by more space pictures by Bernd Zimmer. They are abstractions of colour gradients that overlap and flow into one another and ultimately look like cosmic gas clouds or a supernova.
These works are paired in the room with, among other things, a “Brain” sculpture by Michael Sailstorfer, an object made of a rope wound around itself several times on a plinth, which in this formation is reminiscent of convolutions of the human brain. In a thoroughly ironic way, you might see a kind of imaginary tug-of-war of thoughts endlessly circling around themselves, in the sense of a constant effort to understand the world. A mental Gordian knot.
Other works in the exhibition show Martijn Schuppers’ worlds of colour, which sometimes seem like surreal satellite images of colourful glowing landscapes under passing bands and swirls of clouds. They are compositions that deliberately dispense with clearly defined forms and elevate the pure application of paint in streaks and layers drifting into and away from each other to the central motif. They are created through the use of turpentine to dissolve and liquefy layers of acrylic and oil paints.
The Brazilian Harding Meyer, on the other hand, explores the topography of faces. He uses mainly staged images from the mass media and the internet as models, which he monumentalises through his artistic translation to take away their ephemeral and arbitrary character and at the same time to question them in their immanent posiness. The portrait on the surface of the canvas therefore allows us to look deep behind the portrayed person’s own superficiality.
In this exhibition, the Austrian artist Martin Schnur fascinates us again with his hyperrealistic, bizarre pictorial worlds, in which he mixes different levels of reality like overlapping dream sequences and combines them into a not infrequently enigmatic whole of differently interwoven and interrelated scenes. This creates perplexing moments of encounters between man, nature and the outside world, in which the human being appears strangely isolated and on its own, like a foreign body. But as in a dream, everything here has its justification and rightness for the moment before you wake up from it and see things rationally again.
Leif Trenkler’s colourful, light-hearted summer idylls are comparable and yet different. He depicts Caribbean or Mediterranean places of longing in a deliberately romanticised manner, sometimes with dreamlike villas and pool landscapes, in which isolated figures abandon themselves to the unique moment of peace and leisure. And yet these staged dream motifs, taken as if from an imaginary travel brochure, seem strangely alienated and artificial. Like a model railway landscape in which reality is merely reproduced as a true-to-detail miniaturised image of a reality that has now become “unreal”.
In light of the current situation, these pictures in particular experience a harmony that seems unreal despite everything, just like other works within the exhibition, an additional level of interpretation related to these times. This new way of looking at things is also evident right at the beginning of the exhibition in the two paintings by Michelle Jezierski. Her paintings of implied and offset fragments of landscape, composed as they are of vertical stripes and coloured bands, with their aesthetic appeal of a changing foreground and background, appear like a view through barriers or, to exaggerate, through bars. The desire for boundless freedom, which has always been cherished anyway, is given a new dimension and topicality here, perhaps even unintentionally.
Dr. Veit Ziegelmaier