18 September through 14 November, 2009
A majestic concert of paintings, old and new, forms the current mini-retrospective of Rainer Fetting at Berlin’s Galerie Deschler. Fetting was one of the representative members of the “Junge Wilde” in Berlin in the 1970s and 1980s, a loose-knit group of painters in opposition to the dominant trends of Minimal and Conceptual Art, whose explosive works elicited memories of the pre-war Expressionist movement in Germany. While still a student, Fetting co-founded the famed Galerie am Moritzplatz alongside such luminaries as Salomé, an artist with whom Fetting was romantically involved at one point. In pursuing his individual style in painting and sculpture, Fetting notably emerged as an important visual chronicler of West Berlin life in the last two decades of the Wall.
Fetting’s paintings of the Berlin Wall form some of the most iconic images in the exhibition. Erstes Mauerbild
(1977) uses purple, blue, and yellow in various hues to portray the darkness of the ground reality at that time, which is effectively contrasted with the brilliance of a yellow sky. Two pink rectangles illuminate the interior of a window of a lonely apartment building on the Western side of the wall, while a skeletal inference of prison-like structures on the other side represents what, at the time, was truly unknowable.
The artist is always explicit in his acknowledgment of his Modernist forefathers. A cluster of four smaller works in the back of the gallery, dating from the mid-70s, give Fetting away as one of the true heirs of the tradition established by the likes of Kirchner and Nolde.
The downstairs gallery is devoted to some of the many portraits Fetting has produced throughout the course of his career. A clear reference to Picassoan womanhood can be discerned in the triangular face of Susanne liegend
(1978) demonstrates that Fetting is just as at ease with pastels as he is with the brighter hues one typically finds in his work, if not more so – this is one of the finest paintings in the show, managing to come off as both messy and delicate in its depiction of a shirtless young man reclining in a sofa chair.
Fetting’s latest works are largely based on an obsession with gangsters of the classical Hollywood type, and tend to be darker and moodier. Some of these mature paintings rank among the best he has done to date. Room of the Loner is an instant classic – though dated 2008, it could very well have been painted in 1908 – and that isn’t meant as a slight, but as an assertion of the painting’s timelessness: an evocative, Munchian image of a black-suited man lying on a spotted mattress emitting a bubbly stream of white smoke from his mouth. The largest painting in the show, Dünengang der Maler zum Meer (Gauguin und Van Gogh)
(2009), with its bruisy figures being nearly swallowed by lush greenery, is simply stupendous in its color and movement – it will fill you with awe.
This is one of the shows to remember 2009 by. One only hopes that a similar exhibition showcasing Fetting’s equally prolific sculptural output is on the horizon.