June 2008, Neo Rauch @ David Zwirner

Neo Rauch
David Zwirner
May 12 through June 21, 2008

Neo Rauch's paintings are said to be of dreams or by dreams. Rauch’s work was described as a "neo-romantic socialist realism by way of Courbet, Delacroix, surrealism and Kippenberger," but also touches on Pop Art. The light seems to come from underneath in early canvases as any good Renaissance painting should, post conservation. Rauch's 2005 at David Zwirner, Regeneration, was aptly so. Versed in pictorial scenes; rich in their landscape, interiors, and narrative, there is even suggestion of historical reference points marked by Communist propaganda strangely twisted or enhanced.

Installation view of Neo Rauch at David Zwirner, 2005 from left: Neo Rauch's Neue Rollen, 2005 (diptych, oil on canvas),
and Höhe, 2004 (oil on canvas), Courtesy David Zwirner, New York and Galerie Eigen + Art, Berlin/Leipzig

Often large formatted, Rauch's canvases up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were slighted as middlebrow, or unremarkable, by Roberta Smith in a NY Times review, adding that the physical space was altering the perception of the work, if by room size or by the Museum’s collection. The exhibition then traveled appropriately, highlighting Rauch as the contemporary surrealist, to the Max Ernst Museum in Bruhl. Now concluding at Zwirner with a separate show, Rauch ends quite remarkably, as in case of his poignantly Surrealist work, Die Aufnahme (2008). A quick translation survey encountered over fifteen English variations for 'aufnahme,' (i.e. view, uptake, reception, absorption, affiliation, assimilation), and indeed Rauch's work requires intake and entrance into its world before you in each painting. Here there is table of scientists or in least lab coat gentlemen curious and leaning over a table to young man breathing fire, a large woman’s arms wrapped around an archer and a hunter, walking toward a black pit. After the acidic chroma burns away and you've looked past the scandalous argument (a woman caught with her lover?) in Das Gut (2008), Rauch's paintings still remain standing strong within their contemporary situations enriched with their art historical context.

 Neo Rauch, Die Aufnahme, 2008
 Oil on canvas, 118.11 x 98.43 inches; 300 x 250 cm
 Courtesy David Zwirner, New York and Galerie Eigen + Art, Berlin/Leipzig

At Zwirner Rauch's pictures are even more astute. They hold a tonality seemingly more appropriate for the Chelsea market, a sense bit smarter, maybe cooler. "Color is always a crucial element in Mr. Rauch's work, but here his palette is loaded with gravy-browns that add to the backward-looking aura," as Roberta Smith points out in her June 15 review of Neo Rauch at the Met: para. Perchance the muted palette paintings were by choice for the stately, low ceilinged walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met paintings are not as easy on the eye for the downtowner finding their way North. They required a different kind of time spent than acidic yellows and cerulean blues in the current paintings. This palette reinforces Rauch's continual art historical references. Here he has touched on the Renaissance, the Romantics, and the Modernists. The color sits atop the neutral ground, quite like four color printing processes from the times of lithographic or off-set printing, identifying with propaganda material.

Rauch was born in 1960 in Leipzig, East Germany, continuing to this day to live and teach within the city. Images of laboratories and students, young political organizations gathering, such as in Die Stickerin (2008) or in Das Plateau (2008) suggesting further his environment within the city and within an academically minded setting. Clearly today there are delineations, however, there still remain two strong notions in the art world, the institutional setting and the good old go with your guts. Rauch sits effortlessly in his scholarly and historical references. Das Plateau features the highly poetic reference and most Romantic towards the arts with three men sitting on a ravine edge contemplating, pondering (one with a betula growing from his middle), dark dusky clouds suggesting the very moment or day at its decline.

Installation view of Neo Rauch at David Zwirner, 2008 from left: Neo Rauch's Das Plateau, 2008 and Die Stickerin, 2008
(Both oil on canvas), Courtesy David Zwirner, New York and Galerie Eigen + Art, Berlin/Leipzig

Perhaps Roberta Smith, the discerning writer, was correct to quote Clement Greenberg. They are acceptable paintings remaining interesting and reachable. Getting caught up in these dusky clouds and politically charged moments of Youth’s vibrant unfolding of understanding, transformation, and discovery is only reachable, as said, by superb physical painting. Rauch’s ability to blend it all and allow us to make sense with bits of painterly passages and collaging effects, lends us to maybe just glance as what is before us. The only remark; perhaps what is (more) surreal is our everyday.

Emily Schroeder

Emily Schroeder has worked in archives and libraries, including Anton Kern Gallery, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and just recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  She has just relocated to Chicago to pursue graduate studies.

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