For some reason the universe conspires against me every time Neo Rauch has a show in town. Last time he was showing at the Gagosian Gallery I had a mighty flu and missed the show. This time a bacterial infection nearly knocked me out, but I decided to fight against it to make my deadline for this our precious magazine. So with four advils and two antibiotics washed down with a lovely ice cold Spaten, I ventured out to the Neo Rauch exhibit at the Met.
The chemical cocktail did much to ease the tension dealing with the mass of humanity clogging the hallowed halls of this sacred institution. The courteous guards gently guided me towards the exhibition, and upon entering the gallery either the paintings filled me with an overwhelming sense of deja`vu or the chemicals swimming in my head did. have I been here before? Well of course I have, this is the Met, I've been here a thousand times, but that's not it. The pictures have generated something in me, affected me immediately upon entering the gallery, giving me something that I can't describe other than by... the creeps.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that the paintings are hideous, no, not at all. They are in fact kind of beautiful. Neo Rauch paints with an impressive virtuosity that quickly places the sky, the table, etc. onto the canvas. The colors are applied in order to just demonstrate its intention, thickly painted her and there only because it was necessary. Surface tensions are unified by a systematic exploitation and rejection of universal laws. I'm sure Mr. Rauch has channeled these works, giving in to the muses as he constructs what is given him.
What gives me the creeps is not the immediate palpable impact emitted by these enigmatic works, but the apparent meanings I seem to conjure up using the symbols, people and backgrounds that here seem to be so effortlessly manifested. When you study these pieces, all painted for this exhibition, a certain paranoiac attitude arises from them... or is it from me? A distinct feeling of history or current events permeates the room as if Mr. Rauch was a sort of visionary and is endeavoring to share his psychic experiences. I believe that there are distinct messages woven into some of these works, messages that seem to warn against the likes of ... well, us.
Firstly we have "Waiting for the Barbarians" ( 59"x157" all oil on canvas) The figures on the right (Europe ) are preparing for a battle against the marauders coming from the left () A minotaur has been sacrificed on the pyre already beginning to smoke, is that Picasso? Another minotaur (Rauch?) begins to suit up for his impending doom, and is lauded and applauded as heroes are lauded and applauded. Young matrons wearing blue dresses are detailing rifles and arming the brave young man who is ready for anything and has the most alive face of all the other protagonists. Who are the barbarians that this Aryan Assembly is preparing for? Has anybody asked why or if the barbarians are coming to invade them? Why do they seem to think we are the barbarians?
In "The Suburb" (59x98") Mr. Rauch seems to say that it is the suburbs that is the source of all evil. Notice how, on the left side of the picture, within the walls there is nothing but darkness. A crimson bomb lays on the ground protecting the inhabitants cloistered behind the walls. An outraged crowd readies to raze the community, but once again they do so without passion, somnambulistically moving along, tending over the duties handed to them by chance. Does Mr. Rauch intend to rally the sleepwalkers towards an anti-bourgeois revolution?
It is, I believe the nature of the actors, their general demeanor that seems to get me. Remember that Mr. Rauch was born in Leipzig in 1960, so if he did indeed channel these works, he is tapping into the universal consciousness of the German mind. If the German people feel as these characters seem to feel, that is spiritually dead and just going through the motions, then one little psychotic despot will have no trouble sparking another revolution reminiscent of the one that ended only sixty years ago. Just one little spark of passion can lead these characters towards the most outrageous exploits. Am I going too far with this speculation?
Okay let's slowly walk away from my own para-noia and look at the lighter side of this exhibition, shall we? "Vater" (Father, 78"x59") is one of the most hilarious pictures I've ever laid eyes on. An indistinct young man holds " a baby" but the child seems to be the young man's father in miniature. The young man reluctantly holds the child with large, soapy, cartoon like hands as the "child" precariously hangs on for dear life. Is this a testament against the lifetime longevity of our parents, that they live so long that we, their children eventually become, in turn their parents? Disturbing stuff for sure but highly amusing delivery.
Ah yes and then there is "Paranoia" (20"x59") which for me is the deepest and well, best work of the exhibition. Again there is fear or trepidation for something or someone coming from the darkness of the opened door on the left. The protagonists as earnestly and as intently as they can wait for some kind of something to happen. Behind them are tools of the painting trade. Maybe they are awaiting the next great thing that will come out of the west; or maybe Mr. Rauch is telling us that only something dark and murky can only come out of the , as all the tools and wisdom of art are behind them, not us.
Yes I may have issues with my interpretations of what Mr. Rauch has to say, and you may even hate him and his works for various reasons, but don't miss this show. I assure you that Neo Rauch is just the beginning of something big coming out of Germany today.
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Ricardo DeSoto is a freelance journalist in New York City.