Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen. Photo: Helge Tscharn

 

Robert Elfgen (* 1972) is acclaimed for a mytho-poetic artistic universe that revolves around the relationship between human beings and the world. His assemblages, collages, light objects, videos, floor- and wall works are frequently arranged in room-filling installations that resemble walk-in paintings. The Cologne-based artist makes use of objets trouvés from his everyday surroundings, but also draws upon such traditional artistic media as metal engraving, reverse glass painting, inlay and various printing-making techniques. The often-improvised combination of found objects, images and technical approaches conjures complex associations and interconnected layers of meaning.

 

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Bricolage is the central ordering principle of Elfgen’s oeuvre. Early works in particular also find the artist employing such readymades as a Vespa, for example, a Mercedes-Benz classic car and other modes of transport. Subtle interventions to these vehicles, their quasi-theatrical staging and integration into thematically dense spatial artworks add an almost mystical dimension. They point to travel as a rite de passage, but also clearly evoke a confrontation with death, the last great rite of passage for any of us. The objects are regularly accompanied by inlay works depicting skulls, falcons or owls, most of which directly meet the viewer’s gaze. These same motifs take the lead role in a number of installations. As symbols they embody both the end and a new beginning; they appear to guard a threshold between the worlds of the living and the dead.

The artist’s spatial installations, created with an acute sensibility for unconscious effects, usually encompass a vast array of collages, assemblages and works in various different media. They are to be understood as total works of art. More recent assemblages in particular show Elfgen’s increased use of objets trouvés: elements ranging from wicker chairs to a skateboard ramp to a monastery’s confessional. Cobbled together with fiberboard, resin or clay, they have something of a fragile character. His collages consist of found images, various textiles, paintings and inlays. The diffuse spatiality of their black-stained background recalls icons or panel paintings from the Middle Ages. Animals including rabbits, foxes, or cats are a recurring motif in almost every one of Elfgen’s installations, as are figures with averted faces, ties, umbrellas, and puddles of oil. The symbolism of these elements—also reminiscent of the art historical iconographies of René Magritte or Joseph Beuys—alludes to the human being’s place in the cycle of nature and the failure of conventional ideologies of technology and progress.

Robert Elfgen’s works thrive on a specific kind of narrative and symbolic density, on biography, everyday observations and an acute sensibility for the subliminal poetry of myths and rituals. Keenly focused on the threshold experiences of human life, their extraordinary intimacy conjures a multitude of different associations. The visible traces of their production reflect the fragmentation and improvisation that define our contemporary existence. Elfgen’s oeuvre amounts to nothing less than a highly poetic aesthetic of being.

 

Works
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Pandora, 2015

Robert Elfgen
Pandora, 2015
Plywood, batik dye, spray paint
126 × 86 cm
49 5/8 × 33 7/8 inches

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Ciu Ciu, 2018

Robert Elfgen
Ciu Ciu, 2018
Wood, brass, paint
50 × 33 × 1.5 cm
19 3/4 × 13 × 5/8 inches

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Marina, 2016

Robert Elfgen
Marina, 2016
Plywood, stain, spray paint, matte varnish finish, expoxy resin
82.5 × 62.5 cm
32 1/2 × 24 5/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Stillstra, 2014

Robert Elfgen
Stillstra, 2014
Plywood, water stain, epoxy resin, rayon, plants
125 × 172 cm
49 1/8 × 67 3/4 inches

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014
Wood, paint, mirror, plants, glass, road sign, epoxy resin
170 × 217 × 20 cm
67 × 85 3/8 × 7 7/8 inches

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013
Found object
186 × 145 × 12 cm
73 1/4 × 57 × 4 3/4 inches

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
An Einer Stelle, 2014

Robert Elfgen
An Einer Stelle, 2014
Found object
291 × 93 × 185 cm
114 5/8 × 36 5/8 × 72 7/8 inches

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Bienenmann (bien ich), 2008

Robert Elfgen
Bienenmann (bien ich), 2008
MDF, glass, fabric, spray paint, silikon
150.5 × 120.5 × 1.5 cm
59 1/4 x 47 3/8 x 5/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
MDF, wood, paint
125 × 180 cm
49 1/8 × 70 7/8 inches

More views
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
MDF, wood, paint, fabric
125 × 180 cm
49 1/8 × 70 7/8 inches

More views
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Fasan, 2006

Robert Elfgen
Fasan, 2006
Glass, gravur, lacquer
67.5 × 47 cm
26 5/8 x 18 1/2 inches

Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Frau Kauz, 2006

Robert Elfgen
Frau Kauz, 2006
Wood, synthetic resin paint on aluminium
36 × 30 cm
14 1/8 x 11 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
Bude 2 (Detail: Fass), 2004

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2, 2004
Installation view Bonner Kunstverein, 2005
Found object, MDF, lacquer
Dimensions variable

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen
„Wann ist noch nicht die Zeit“: Boot, 2004

Robert Elfgen
„Wann ist noch nicht die Zeit“: Boot, 2004
Wood, resin, gold leaf
29.5 × 56 × 521 cm
11 5/8 x 22 x 205 1/8 inches

Details
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Pandora, 2015
Plywood, batik dye, spray paint
126 × 86 cm
49 5/8 × 33 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Pandora, 2015
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Pandora, 2015 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Pandora
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Ciu Ciu, 2018
Wood, brass, paint
50 × 33 × 1.5 cm
19 3/4 × 13 × 5/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Ciu Ciu, 2018
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Ciu Ciu, 2018 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Ciu Ciu, 2018
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Marina, 2016
Plywood, stain, spray paint, matte varnish finish, expoxy resin
82.5 × 62.5 cm
32 1/2 × 24 5/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Marina, 2016
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Stillstra, 2014
Plywood, water stain, epoxy resin, rayon, plants
125 × 172 cm
49 1/8 × 67 3/4 inches

Robert Elfgen
Stillstra, 2014
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Stillstra, 2014 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Stillstra, 2014
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014
Wood, paint, mirror, plants, glass, road sign, epoxy resin
170 × 217 × 20 cm
67 × 85 3/8 × 7 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Sørum, 2014
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013
Found object
186 × 145 × 12 cm
73 1/4 × 57 × 4 3/4 inches

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
in and out, 2013
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
An Einer Stelle, 2014
Found object
291 × 93 × 185 cm
114 5/8 × 36 5/8 × 72 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
An Einer Stelle, 2014
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
An Einer Stelle, 2014 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
An Einer Stelle, 2014
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Bienenmann (bien ich), 2008
MDF, glass, fabric, spray paint, silikon
150.5 × 120.5 × 1.5 cm
59 1/4 x 47 3/8 x 5/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Bienenmann (bien ich), 2008
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
MDF, wood, paint
125 × 180 cm
49 1/8 × 70 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
MDF, wood, paint, fabric
125 × 180 cm
49 1/8 × 70 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008 (detail)

Robert Elfgen
Löwe, 2008
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Fasan, 2006
Glass, gravur, lacquer
67.5 × 47 cm
26 5/8 x 18 1/2 inches

Robert Elfgen
Fasan, 2006
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Frau Kauz, 2006
Wood, synthetic resin paint on aluminium
36 × 30 cm
14 1/8 x 11 7/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
Frau Kauz, 2006
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2, 2004
Installation view Bonner Kunstverein, 2005
Found object, MDF, lacquer
Dimensions variable

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2 (Detail: Fass), 2004
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2, 2004
Installation view Bonner Kunstverein, 2005

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2 ( Detail: Fass), 2004
Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2, 2004
Installation view Bonner Kunstverein, 2005

Robert Elfgen
Bude 2 (Detail: Fass), 2004
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
„Wann ist noch nicht die Zeit“: Boot, 2004
Wood, resin, gold leaf
29.5 × 56 × 521 cm
11 5/8 x 22 x 205 1/8 inches

Robert Elfgen
„Wann ist noch nicht die Zeit“: Boot, 2004
Details
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Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
I wish my pictures
November 15, 2014–January 17, 2015
Berlin

In I wish my pictures, Elfgen's new exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Berlin, two thematic strands emerge into the foreground which have been latently present in his œuvre for a long time: the importance of landscape for our being-in-the-world, and the processes with which we perceive or do not perceive this world. A large assemblage sculpture, illumanted by a streetlamp protruding from the wall, is the first sight when entering the room. The exhibition reveals itself under the watchful eye of a circular mirror, into which intarsia has been inserted resembling a pupil. Landscape paintings and assemblages, the latter standing on the ground, guide through the two-parted exhibition space.

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Robert Elfgen
Development
April 27–June 16, 2012
Berlin

Robert Elfgen focuses on the relationship between nature, human beings, and society. Biographical experiences and everyday observations serve the artist as the point of departure for his works. When the viewer enters one of his space-related installations, the sculptures, assemblages, collages, and films are linked associatively and transformed into spatial allegories which make it possible to experience a private mythology. Transitional situations, social threshold-rituals, the cycle of nature, and the shifts of aggregate states: material and immaterial transfers provide the motifs for his symbolic, often whimsical visual worlds.

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Robert Elfgen
Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
grenzübergang
May 2–June 20, 2009
Berlin

In a continuation of the artist’s interest in imaginary sites and their opening-up, the image of a quiet crossing constitutes the background to Elfgen’s new work. The situation of the passage, together with the narrative framework associated with it, is established through the arrangement of found and produced objects involving highly diverse materials. An illuminated ensemble consisting of a kayak along with picture- and light-objects takes possession of the exhibition space and engenders an intensive but also indefinite spatial feeling. Elfgen thereby creates a place which can be left behind, but which also contains the possibility of being rediscovered.

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Robert Elfgen

Robert Elfgen
des bien ich
April 16–July 26, 2008
Cologne

Des bien ich is the first solo exhibition of Robert Elfgen at Sprüth Magers' gallery in Cologne. After his studies at the Academy of Arts in Braunschweig (class of John Armleder) and at the Academy of Arts in Dusseldorf (class of Rosemarie Trockel), the artist realized solo exhibitions in Cologne (Simultanhalle), London (Westlondonprojects) and in Munich (Sprüth Magers Projects) as well as projects in public spaces. Robert Elfgen received the Peter-Mertes-Stipendium of the Bonner Kunstfonds, the studio scholarship of the Bonner Kunstverein and the award of the federal state NRW for young artists. Robert Elfgen lives and works in Cologne.

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Press

Robert Elfgen
Moff, interview by Stefanie Klingemann and Sabine Elsa Müller, 2016

Interview mit Robert Elfgen
Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, interview by Sabine Becker, February 14 2014

Robert Elfgen
Spare Magazine, article by Franziska von Hasselbach, February 2007

Biography

Robert Elfgen (*1972, Wesseling) lives and works in Cologne and Berlin. Elfgen first studied with John Armleder at the Akademie der Künste Braunschweig before switching to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf as a master pupil of Rosemarie Trockel. He was awarded the Atelierstipendium, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne and Imhoff-Stiftung, Cologne (2004); the Förderpreis des Landes NRW für junge Künstlerinnen und Künstler (2007); and the Grafikpreis des Landes NRW (2009). Important solo exhibitions were Strandspaziergang, Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Dueren (2016); Hören was zu sehen, Oldenburger Kunstverein (2015); des bien ich, Sprüth Magers Cologne (2008); expedition, westlondonprojects, London (2006); and 1+1=3 Elfgen-Technik, Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn (2005). Relevant group exhibitions were Berlin Edition, Museum of Now (2019), Spargelmatinee, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2017); Paperworlds., me Collectors Room Berlin (2014); Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (2013—14); Plaisirs du Jardin, Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (2012); and Paul ThekWerkschau im Kontext zeitgenössischer Kunst, ZKM Karlsruhe and Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg (2007‒08).

Education
1990 Carpentry-apprenticeship, Bonn
1997–01 Fine Art studies, Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig (Prof. John Armleder)
2001–04 Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf (Prof. Rosemarie Trockel)
2004 Meisterschüler of Prof. Rosemarie Trockel
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2015 CCA Andratx, Mallorca
2014 Günther-Peill-Stipendium, Dueren
2009 Grafikpreis des Landes NRW
2007 Arbeitsstipendium der / grant of the Stiftung Kunstfonds, Bonn
2007 Förderpreis des Landes NRW für junge Künstlerinnen und Künstler
2007 Kunstfonds, Bonn
2004 Atelierstipendium / grant of Kölnischer Kunstverein und / and Imhoff-Stiftung, Cologne
2004 Peter Mertens Stipendium, Bonn
2004 Atelierstipendium, Kölnischer Kunstverein and Imhoff-Stiftung, Cologne
2001 Studienstipendium of the Cusanuswerk Bonn, Bonn