Galerie Max Hetzler is pleased to present Häuser und Fenster, a solo exhibition of work by Günther Förg at Bleibtreustraße 45, in Berlin. Günther Förg’s comprehensive and multidisciplinary oeuvre, which spans five decades, includes painting, drawing and murals as well as sculpture and photography. The focus is on material, colour and space. The artist’s experimental approach to abstraction and monochrome painting was directed against the trend towards figuration that prevailed in Germany in the 1980s. His works made continuous reference to 20th century modernism, whose utopia he critically questioned. In this context, he engaged with art movements as diverse as early modernism, referencing artists such as Edvard Munch, or the American abstract expressionists including Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Cy Twombly. Elements of conceptual art can also be found throughout Förg’s work and additionally challenge traditional interpretations.
The current exhibition highlights Förg’s varied methods of creation. In addition to works on canvas, wood and Canson paper, the artist’s lead paintings are on display, in which he painted directly onto the metal. Förg also worked extensively with photography. Although some of his photographs appear monumental due to their large format, which was uncommon for the time, and their clearly composed details are reminiscent of painting, they nevertheless retain the immediacy of a snapshot. Thematically, Förg mostly focused on the modern architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, as in the work Häuser und Fenster from 1987, which gives our exhibition its title, and can be seen as exemplary for a large part of his photographic oeuvre. The windows in the artist’s works are structural elements which, instead of offering a view, redirect the gaze back onto both the exhibition space and their own physical presence. The characteristic grid pattern, which again represents a link to modern art, recurs in various forms.
In Häuser und Fenster, the view is obscured by the glaring daylight, whilst in Untitled, 2000, a tree appears directly in front of the window, blocking the view. This impression of non-transparency is reinforced by the heavy wooden frames and the reflective glass of the larger photographs, such as the series Bauhaus, from 1991. On this pictorial technique, the artist would explain: “The architecture of the exhibition space is mirrored in the glass surface, so that when you look at the photos, you see yourself and a game begins. The exhibition space is no longer neutral”.
At the same time, Förg also created large-format portraits of his female friends from his immediate surroundings, such as the photograph Eva, from 1998. Förg himself liked to combine architectural photographs in small and large formats with his photographic portraits from the 1980s onwards. Despite the different media, all works are thematically closely linked. Farbfeld and Untitled, both from 1986, are similarly geometrically reduced in their form, evoking the work of the Colour Field painters of the 1950s. By using lead as a painting surface, which continues to transform through oxidation, Förg’s practice questions the methods of traditional painting and the purity sought in modern art. Although he refers to abstract expressionism, his works embody a particular lightness and detachment, unbound by the moral convictions of the movement. Untitled, 2007, encapsulates Förg’s later Spot Paintings. Here, the different colours are applied impulsively, much like an écriture automatique. The process of creation itself takes centre stage, as the structure is slowly replaced by the dynamics of movement. Transcending the boundaries between different art movements, Förg’s oeuvre and his critical approach to the principles of modern art has remained an inspiration for generations of contemporary artists.