Martin Kobe, Untitled (detail), 2003

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June 29, 2005

If we had to name one movement sparking excitement in the art world today, it would certainly be the new German painters. Schooled in the former East German cities of Leipzig and Dresden, a group of young artists and their mentors have captured the attention of the international art scene from Berlin to Los Angeles. In this issue, we take a look at the leading players, hear from the curator of a formidable collection of these painters, and check out one of the rising stars. Topping off our investigation of painting, we consider the new catalog for a massive show celebrating the medium at the Saatchi Gallery. Then we share our picks of what's new in the galleries from Athens to Kansas City.

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Scream Theft's Sordid Back Story Uncovered
(The Guardian, June 13)
New evidence suggests the daring theft of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch's iconic Scream may be linked to a gang of violent criminals. As arrests accumulate, police theorize that the masterminds behind the plot may have orchestrated it as a ruse to shake a nationwide manhunt after a deadly bank heist. Already stolen once in 1994, the painting was ripped from the walls of Oslo's Munch Museum last year.

Artist Feels Aftermath of "9/11" Performance
(NBC5 Chicago, June 17)
Brooklyn-based artist Kerry Skarbakka now contradicts claims that his performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, is linked to 9/11. Wearing a suit and safety harness, he fell repeatedly from the building's rooftop as assistants photographed him. Skarbakka has drawn particular ire from the outspoken New York press and received death threats by email after the incident was publicized as a re-creation of the World Trade Center tragedy.

Ando Stands Out in Harajuku
(Japan Times, June 10)
Tadao Ando's recently completed hhstyle/casa building in Tokyo's Harajuku district is an imposing, minimalist counterpoint to the bright bohemia of its trendy punk surroundings. Made from origami-inspired black steel plates, Ando's design for the luxury outlet is a departure from his signature concrete constructions. Its dark aesthetic is intended to deter inappropriate clientele from entering.

Miranda July Brings Art to Big Screen
(indieWIRE, June 17)
After starring in such high-profile art events as the Whitney Biennial, multimedia artist Miranda July directs, and stars in, her first feature film, Me and You and Everyone We Know. The ensemble comedy builds on her own life experience to depict the trials of an aspiring artist. It has won awards at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals.

Gagosian and Schachter face off in new London digs » more

Intimate sketches of Picasso mistress total $2.3 million at auction » more

Damien Hirst causes stir with macabre painting project » more

Builder's 21st-century legacy props up architecture's brightest minds » more

Esteemed critic Robert Hughes adds to Serra accolades with glowing review » more

Venice Biennale Golden Lions announced » more

Frida Kahlo leads Mexican art into international market » more

MoMA remixed by sound-savvy media students » more

Artist community clashes with Chinese government » more

Bar of soap fetches $18,000 as prices soar at Art Basel » more

Influential New York art collector and curator David Whitney dies » more

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[ New German Painting ]


Thoralf Knobloch / Sophia Schama / Eberhard Havekost / Neo Rauch

The popularity of painting has reached considerable highs and lows over the past 25 years. In the early '80s, neo-expressionist painters from the US and Europe helped fuel an art boom that later shifted in focus to neo-conceptual art and new media, thus leaving a lot of talented painters in the second tier. While the 51st Venice Biennale celebrates a continuation of conceptual concerns, the organizers of the second Prague Biennale decided to explore a current fascination with painting. At the core of the renewed interest in this traditional medium is a group of young painters from Germany, Leipzig and Dresden in particular, who are currently turning heads.

The 45-year-old Neo Rauch, who studied at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, and 38-year-old Eberhard Havekost, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden, lead the charge and inspire younger artists. Each has a decade of exhibitions, critical acclaim, and the support of influential galleries and collectors. Rauch constructs complex visual allegories, juxtaposing costumed figures and vernacular architecture. His canvases present simultaneous narratives that seem surreal yet mix romantic and social realist styles. On the other hand, Havekost's paintings resemble film stills, where closely cropped figures, structures, and sites are captured in abstract planes of color.

The New German Painting exhibition in Prague presents a younger generation from these two artistic hot spots. Martin Eder paints agitated landscapes populated by alluring ladies and silly pets; Sophia Schama zeros in on nature, from blades of grass to schools of fish; Thoralf Knobloch explores the abstract possibility of a dock or soccer goal; Frank Nitsche renders curvilinear abstractions, which reflect the coolness of contemporary architecture; Julia Schmidt makes the ordinary look extraordinary with seductive brushstrokes; and Tim Eitel portrays people in stark environments, including art galleries — where our understanding of this exciting new take on painting truly begins. (PL)

New German Painting is on view at the Prague Biennale 2 at Karlin Hall in Prague through September 15, 2005.

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Naomi Fisher: Clear Cut
Kansas City
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Now through July 10

  Naomi Fisher's red-eyed, lonely Dianas are devious and seductive, Amazonian, and perhaps unscrupulous. They carry swords triumphant; they boil and rage; they preside over stately, one-woman courts; and, much of the time, they are caught in the pink-addled, raw webbings of Fisher's unforgiving, fantastical pen. One might think of a thumping, Kokoschkan energy or the more chaotic canvases of Rita Ackermann while looking at Fisher's drawings and photographs, but her work is more about possession. The Miami-born maverick excavates a world full of fierce, driven girls obssessed by vendettas and banging down a warpath with only justice in mind. (ML)

Peter Bialobrezski: Neon Tigers and new works
L.A. Galerie
Now through July 9

  Peter Bialobrezski's large-scale photographs of Asian cities shimmer with light. Neon, we have learned through research, accounts for just 0.002% of the atmosphere, yet in his photos the urban environment seems entirely dominated by it. He shoots with a large-format camera, between 4pm and dusk, to create his uniquely beguiling, pastel-tinged images. Working with long exposures means the architectural detail of office and tower blocks, motorways and plazas is brought to the forefront, with the cities' lifeblood, their human presence, often reduced to a blur. Like moths attracted to a bright light, don't be fooled by the beautifully lit images — Bialobrezski depicts a filmic and architecturally friendly representation of the East, leaving you to realize that cities are nothing without citizens. (SR)

Kutlug Ataman
Museum of Contemporary Art
Now through September 4

  In a major international survey of Kutlug Ataman's work, viewers have the opportunity to discover a director whose intimate portrayals of people on the fringes of society evince a subtle artistic approach. Leaving his ego at the door, the Turkish artist and filmmaker lets his subjects do the talking — whether about their obsessions, as in Stefan's Room and The Four Seasons of Veronica Read, or about their experiences on the margins of civilization, as in Kuba. His innovative and striking installations complement the topics of his filmic discoveries, introducing viewers to the strangely familiar inner worlds of society's outsiders. (AK)

James Casebere
Galerie Daniel Templon
Now through July 23

  James Casebere's awe-inspiring photographs of abandoned Moorish mosques, classrooms, and bathhouses are reminiscent of a time when today's warring religions cohabitated in these minimalist and spiritual places. Painterly in quality and set with dramatic light, these empty spaces often flooded with water are doubly ambiguous because they are photographs of architectural models built by the artist, a technique he has pioneered since the late '70s. The result is uneasiness in the face of desolation and humility, reflected in the eerie tranquility of each photograph. This show is pure beauty: a meditation on the world we live in and the spaces we create. (MS)

Gert & Uwe Tobias: Roswitha meets Dionysos
The Breeder
Now through July 2

  The very thought of Roswitha — a tenth-century Benedictine nun who is regarded as the first female German poet — meeting Dionysos, the Greek god of wine and madness, is absurdly funny. Yet it is exactly the kind of philosophical pranksterism that makes the work of Gert & Uwe Tobias so unusual. The twin brothers were born in Romania, which they often reference in their work via Transylvanian vampires, and moved to Germany at age 12. They studied with the '80s art star Walter Dahn, who may have inspired the neo-expressionist edge apparent in their mixing of modernism and folklore. This ironically titled show continues their dynamic use of woodcuts, displays some quirky drawings, and introduces a group of insanely beautiful ceramics. (PL)

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[ Matthias Weischer ]

Matthias Weischer

Born in 1973 in Elte, Hungary, Matthias Weischer currently lives and works in the art town du jour of Leipzig. He recently made a splash in the exhibition From Leipzig at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and his work is included in the current MASS MoCA show Life After Death. Weischer is a mainstay of the much lauded New Leipzig School, a movement of young, mainly representational painters who all studied at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts.

Weischer paints interiors that are almost always devoid of people — the true subject is their absence. He uses oil paint like sheets of drywall, leaving fissures and seams visible under the surface, expressing a dual idea of building as both metaphoric object and literal activity. The spaces in question have a dreamlike quality, as though either imagined or remembered — an effect heightened by the dimensionality of the paint. The sumptuous striped wallpaper that dominates KO (2003), for example, is kept company by a pair of strappy sandals and a remarkably uninviting sky blue mattress.

Automat, an ambitious work from the Cleveland show, is an odd portrait of a pinball machine on an open rooftop that seems both melancholy — because the game lacks a player — and stridently ambiguous as a pop-culture sculptural object. Doors and windows in unstable walls look out onto a world seemingly made entirely of Richard Diebenkorn paintings. A rogue form of plant life asserts its biology against one wall. As with all Weischer's work, what is represented here is not only a perfect marriage of technique and concept, but also the life of the body and the life of the mind. (SND)

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[ Mark Coetzee ]

Tim Eitel / Tilo Baumgärtel / Christoph Ruckhäberle / David Schnell

The collectors Don and Mera Rubell have quietly amassed an extensive collection of contemporary painters schooled at Germany's Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts (founded in 1764), where the first recognizable art movement of the 21st century has emerged. On the occasion of MASS MoCA's Life After Death: New Leipzig Paintings from the Rubell Family Collection, Michelle Weinberg spoke with Mark Coetzee, curator of the collection.
AK: How did this group of artists come to be known as the Leipzig Painters?

MC: Tilo Baumgärtel, Tim Eitel, Martin Kobe, Christoph R�ckhaberle, David Schnell, and Matthias Weischer studied at the Leipzig Academy together. While there, they made a deal to exhibit exclusively as a group for two years at Christian Ehrentraut's Liga Gallery in Berlin. The academy's program is not like the usual American course of study, where one simply takes classes. Rather, the artists worked collectively for five to seven years, and had long debates and critiques with one another about painting. When their work was first shown at the Steibs Hof in Leipzig, only a single work by Weischer sold. When the Rubells discovered them, the artists literally had three-sentence résumés. Over time, the Rubell family flew back and forth and bought up entire exhibitions.

AK: Was this typical of the Rubells' collecting strategy?

MC: The Rubells tend not to collect "anthropologically," not "one of each" style by a variety of artists. They like to go into depth and collect typically a dozen works or more by each artist in their collection. Of course, we had our own debates about these artists, as there was really no precedent for the work. We just had a strong feeling that the work was peculiar.

AK: Is there a single artist who is an influence?

MC: Neo Rauch, who is a bit older than the others, and also represented in the collection. He actually studied at the Academy before the Berlin Wall fell, when the official social realist syllabus was still required, while the others studied there after. Rauch served as their studio monitor, or meisterschuler.

AK: Why did this movement come about in Leipzig?

MC: The artists describe it as a place where you can still think. Leipzig has been known, since the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, as a university town with a strong tradition of critical thought. The artists chose to remain in Leipzig for this reason, rather than immediately relocating to Berlin. The Academy is known for a kind of virtuosic training in figurative painting, and all the artists use every painting technique imaginable in their works. In a society undergoing radical change quickly, these painters took their social realist inheritance and altered it to show dislocated figures, abandoned industrial facilities, and working class interiors.

AK: Does the ascending star of these artists signify anything about the future of painting?

MC: So many critics and curators have made their careers rediscovering painting. Even if the art world puts a focus on one particular medium over another for a moment, declaring painting dead or reborn over and over again is nonsense.

Life After Death: New Leipzig Paintings from the Rubell Family Collection is on view at MASS MoCA through February 12, 2006.

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The Triumph of Painting
Alison Gingeras and Barry Schwabsky
Jonathan Cape

This mammoth catalogue and its accompanying exhibition are definitive proof that painting in the 21st century is very much alive — and thriving. Rather than cracking under the pressure introduced by creative formats such as photography and video art, contemporary painters consistently innovate — some, like Belgian Luc Tuymans, adopt the images provided by these media as the basis for their tableaux. All 38 artists exhibited in Charles Saatchi's three-part exhibition are featured in this book, which includes essays by the eminent critic/curators Alison Gingeras and Barry Schwabsky. Whether painting has indeed triumphed over other forms of expression remains an arguable — and intriguing — question, but this collection of works by established masters and emerging talents makes a very strong case. (AK)

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Cover image
Martin Kobe, Untitled (detail), 2003
Acrylic on canvas
64 3/4 x 90 5/8 in. / 64.5 x 230 cm
Courtesy Rubell Family Collection
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster
Andrew Maerkle
Shana Nys Dambrot
Shiraz Randeria
Melissa Lo
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Mark Mangan

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Lisa Cooley
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Jessica Kraft
Christopher Y. Lew
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Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
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Michelle Weinberg

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