BERLIN.- Since the advent of modernism, the landscape, once among the most important genres of painting, has been relegated to an art-historical twilight zone. The genre last enjoyed prominence with the painters of Impressionism, among them Lovis Corinth. Corinth's most famous landscape paintings come from the years when he spent his summers in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, along the shores of the lake known as the Walchensee. Axel Kasseböhmer takes up this moment in art history in a series of one hundred small-format oil paintings based on motifs featuring the lake, some created near the summerhouse of Lovis Corinth, shown as a group in an exhibition entitled 100 x Walchensee. Like many landscape painters before him, Kasseböhmer pursued a private project with these pictures, creating the series after a long convalescence. The paintings not only explore the status of the landscape in contemporary art, but also investigate what, precisely, painting itself can achieve today.
Kasseböhmer's radical approach to painting is the result of a long development as an artist. The painter earned a reputation at the beginning of the nineteen-eighties for his enigmatic paintings that called to mind segments of well-known works from art history. Following this body of work, Kasseböhmer created a series of pictures that used as their starting point large-format landscape photographs, which he over painted until the underlying photograph disappeared. Afterwards he developed various series', focusing on still lifes, trees and seascapes, taking up diverting styles to conduct a systematic investigation into the possibilities of painting. What connects all these series' is a heightened awareness of loss. In his uvre, Kasseböhmer undertakes the almost impossible endeavor of ushering painterly values into todays world.
The one hundred 'Walchensee' pictures, painted between 2010 and 2012, explore through various means the possibilities of the pictorial space. Kasseböhmer makes uses of a range of styles or methods from art history, and the artists handling of line and color is reminiscent of Corinth, Turner, Matisse, or Munch. Yet Kasseböhmer also introduces many experimental techniques, making use of combs, floor coverings, and other materials. This gives rise to a series of viewpoints that playfully add a visual expression to the landscapes around the Walchensee, while also alluding to the history of landscape painting and the classical notion of a spiritual landscape. The serial nature of Kasseböhmers enterprise allows him to explore all the materials, surfaces and moods unique to paint and canvas, setting up countless interconnections between the pictures.
As a group, the 'Walchensee' pictures open up a dialectic between serialism and uniqueness, illusion and abstraction. For example, the horizontal line is imbued with semantic significance on some of the canvases, while on others it simply serves as an organizational principle for the composition, a means of arranging various colored surfaces. Overall, Kasseböhmer's pictures of the Walchensee oscillate between natural beauty and an aesthetic of destruction, between extreme, deliberate seriousness and enduring humor with regard to the use of material. Whereas some of them are painted with consummate mastery, others occasionally display their miscarriage, their failure. The pictures are at once clearly obsolete and manifestly contemporary.
The prominent characteristic of the 'Walchensee' pictures is their stance of defiance. They take up a self-confident position in opposition to the era of the media image, when a meager and dwindling future is expected for the supposedly intractable medium of painting. Each oil painting of this series enters into the world with a unique materiality and presence. Kasseböhmer's works step emphatically into the presence of the viewer as painted images, a visual experience specific and unique to painting. These are pictures marked by a profound conviction in the power of painting, including its traditions and developments extending back over centuries. The paintings recognize in the pictorial space a model for hope and a lifeline of sorts, deriving their vitality from the belief that painting can be far more than the world as it is.
Axel Kasseböhmer, born in 1952, studied during the nineteen-seventies with Gerhard Richter at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, and has been connected with Sprüth Magers since 1984. Since 2001, he is teaching at the Akademie der Künste in Munich. He has presented his works in solo exhibitions at such institutions as the Westfälischer Kunstverein Münster (1989) and the Kunstverein München (1990), and in group exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1989), the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (1991, 1998), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1994), the Hamburger Deichtorhallen (1995), and the City Gallery in Prague (2005).
At the same time, Sprüth Magers Berlin is presenting the solo exhibition 1970s Solid-Light Works by Anthony McCall.