Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn. Photo: Paul Kalkbrenner

 

Walter Dahn (*1954) was an important influence on a generation of artists often referred to as the Neue Wilde, or New Fauves. A co-founder of the short-lived but significant Mülheimer Freiheit group and a pioneer of “Bad Painting”, he developed a way of painting that questioned the point of the medium. The Cologne-based artist has continued his work in other media since the late 1980s, screen prints in particular. His works, which have been described as a “synthesizing cultural anthropology,” insistently analyze the visual ideologies of art and everyday culture.

 

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What unites Dahn’s large- and small-scale paintings from the early 1980s is their historically singular engagement with the medium of painting. Each of these works looks rapidly painted, even slapdash in their execution. Acrylic and emulsion paints ooze and drip, areas of color appear impulsively composed, and figurative elements are painted carelessly or presented as hastily sketched outlines. The subject matter is equally unkempt: skulls morph into peace signs or stare hungrily at a drink, bizarre body parts hold cigarettes, or a Beuysian hat might perch on a pole arrayed against an abyss. These paintings are also fueled by jokes and erratic slogans. They consider the figurative, but inevitably land in the realm of the grotesque and semi-obscene. They visually invoke emblems and attitudes of the punk movement while simultaneously poking fun at them. Dahn’s paintings seem opposed to everything. Paintings in spite of themselves, they bear witness to an extraordinary artistic instinct that is most effective when turned against itself.

Paradoxically, Dahn’s work has a painterly flair, and testify to an unwavering struggle with the purpose of painting in a late-capitalist art system more inclined to use artworks as objects of speculation and decoration. They constantly demand to know what one should paint, and why anyone should bother painting at all. Dahn’s early works succeeded in laying a cornerstone of the “Bad Painting” movement, exuberantly opening an art-historical door that few thought existed.

Inevitable as it seemed, Dahn’s abandonment of painting came on gradually. His screen prints—increasingly his main outlet along with photography, drawing and film—are not editions, the potentially limitless reproduction common to the medium, but are one-off, original pictures. In some respects, they are a logical continuation of his painting, albeit with non-painterly means.

The found images, lettering and slogans on which these works are based often strike the viewer as vaguely familiar. A testament to Dahn’s wide-ranging interests, they also point again and again to the major role that music has played in his life. Visual elements, including an early ethnological photograph of aboriginal Australians, or a picture of a nude Naga cult follower riding a horse, mingle with such distinctive slogans as “Punk is the sound of my soul” or Oscar Wilde’s aphorism, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. Symbols from the artwork of famous albums by The Smiths, the Sex Pistols, or The National round off his visual lexicon. Like Dahn’s paintings, these works unleash a vast array of associative chains, posing existential, historical, personal and intellectual questions, permeating our consciousness. Rather than explore the trappings of artistic ideologies, they investigate the visual ideologies of everyday life.

 

Walter Dahn: As Life Travels On
Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover, March 2–April 28, 2019

Works
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1984

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1984
Spray on canvas
200 × 250 cm
78 3/4 × 98 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987
Oil on canvas
230.2 × 230.5 cm
90 5/8 × 90 3/4 inches

More views
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
Spraypaint on canvas
200 × 200 cm
78 3/4 × 78 3/4 inches

More views
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Les Enfants Sauvage, 2014

Walter Dahn
Les Enfants Sauvage, 2014
Gouache and silk screen on linen
121 × 86.2 cm
47 5/8 × 34 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Untitled (Soultree), 2015

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Soultree), 2015
Gouache and silk screen on nettle cloth
110 × 80 cm
43 1/4 × 31 1/2 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Ein Mann mit einer langen Nase repariert die Karawane, 1981

Walter Dahn
Ein Mann mit einer langen Nase repariert die Karawane, 1981
Dispersion on nettle cloth
160 × 220 cm
63 × 86 5/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Zur Not malen wir auch mit der Nase, 1982

Walter Dahn
Zur Not malen wir auch mit der Nase, 1982
Emulsion paint on canvas
200 × 150 cm
78 3/4 × 59 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1987

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1987
Acrylic on canvas
120 × 100 cm
47 1/4 × 39 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
Acrylic on canvas
250 × 190 cm
98 3/8 × 74 7/8 inches

More views
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982
Dispersion on nettle cloth
250 × 250 cm
98 3/8 × 98 3/8 inches

More views
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Analytische Malerei … und in Blau ein Turner, der viel Zeit hat, 1981

Walter Dahn
Analytische Malerei … und in Blau ein Turner, der viel Zeit hat, 1981
Acrylic on canvas
150 × 200 cm
59 × 78 3/4 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1983

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1983
Spray on canvas
250 × 250 cm
98 3/8 × 98 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Er, 1984

Walter Dahn
Er, 1984
Acrylic on canvas
200 × 240 cm
78 3/4 × 94 1/2 inches

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn
Gathering..., 1998/2004

Walter Dahn
Gathering…, 1998/2004
Acrylic and silk screen on canvas, wedge frame
46 × 73 cm
18 × 28 3/4 inches

More views
Details
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1984
Spray on canvas
200 × 250 cm
78 3/4 × 98 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1984
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987
Oil on canvas
230.2 × 230.5 cm
90 5/8 × 90 3/4 inches

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987 (detail)

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987 (detail)

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987 (detail)

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Ex Voto), 1987
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
Spraypaint on canvas
200 × 200 cm
78 3/4 × 78 3/4 inches

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
4th Time Around /(My Back Pages) – curated by Richard Prince, installation view, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, USA, September 12 – October 26, 2013

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
4th Time Around /(My Back Pages) – curated by Richard Prince, installation view, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, USA, September 12 – October 26, 2013

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
4th Time Around /(My Back Pages) – curated by Richard Prince, installation view, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, USA, September 12 – October 26, 2013

Walter Dahn
Der Trinker, 1983
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Les Enfants Sauvage, 2014
Gouache and silk screen on linen
121 × 86.2 cm
47 5/8 × 34 inches

Walter Dahn
Les Enfants Sauvage, 2014
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Soultree), 2015
Gouache and silk screen on nettle cloth
110 × 80 cm
43 1/4 × 31 1/2 inches

Walter Dahn
Untitled (Soultree), 2015
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Ein Mann mit einer langen Nase repariert die Karawane, 1981
Dispersion on nettle cloth
160 × 220 cm
63 × 86 5/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Ein Mann mit einer langen Nase repariert die Karawane, 1981
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Zur Not malen wir auch mit der Nase, 1982
Emulsion paint on canvas
200 × 150 cm
78 3/4 × 59 inches

Walter Dahn
Zur Not malen wir auch mit der Nase, 1982
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1987
Acrylic on canvas
120 × 100 cm
47 1/4 × 39 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1987
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
Acrylic on canvas
250 × 190 cm
98 3/8 × 74 7/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
4th Time Around /(My Back Pages) – curated by Richard Prince, installation view, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, USA, September 12-October 26, 2013

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
4th Time Around /(My Back Pages) – curated by Richard Prince, installation view, Venus Over Manhattan, New York, USA, September 12 – October 26, 2013

Walter Dahn
Ausfegen, 1986
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982
Dispersion on nettle cloth
250 × 250 cm
98 3/8 × 98 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982
Walter Dahn 1980–83 / 2014: 2 Räume, installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, Germany, January 30 – April 2, 2015

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982
Walter Dahn 1980–83 / 2014: 2 Räume, installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, Germany, January 30 – April 2, 2015

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria, 1982
Walter Dahn 1980–83 / 2014: 2 Räume, installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, Germany, January 30 – April 2, 2015

Walter Dahn
Vier für ein Ave Maria
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Analytische Malerei … und in Blau ein Turner, der viel Zeit hat, 1981
Acrylic on canvas
150 × 200 cm
59 × 78 3/4 inches

Walter Dahn
Analytische Malerei … und in Blau ein Turner, der viel Zeit hat, 1981
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1983
Spray on canvas
250 × 250 cm
98 3/8 × 98 3/8 inches

Walter Dahn
Untitled, 1983
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Er, 1984
Acrylic on canvas
200 × 240 cm
78 3/4 × 94 1/2 inches

Walter Dahn
Er, 1984
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Gathering…, 1998/2004
Acrylic and silk screen on canvas, wedge frame
46 × 73 cm
18 × 28 3/4 inches

Walter Dahn
Gathering..., 1998/2004
Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Gathering…, 1998/2004 (detail)

Walter Dahn
Gathering..., 1998/2004
Details
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Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
September 13–October 19, 2002
Cologne

Walter Dahn
April 24–July 11, 1998
Cologne

Walter Dahn
Walter Dahn

Walter Dahn
Bilder und Skulpturen
June 28–September 7, 1996
Cologne

Walter Dahn
Arbeiten 1990–94
April 30–July 16, 1994
Cologne

Walter Dahn
Press

Milde Wilde
Süddeutsche Zeitung, article by Till Briegleb, March 18, 2019

Walter Dahn: Forever Young
Kunstforum International, article by Michael Stoeber, May/June 2019

The Sample Images of Walter Dahn
Frieze, article by Oliver Osborne, April 2, 2019

Walter Dahn: Sprüth Magers Berlin
Flash Art, article by Mark Prince, March/April 2015

33 1/3 rpm und andere: Walter Dahn, Another Time Another Place
Kunstforum International, article by Sebastian Egenhofer, December 1997-March 1998

Walter Dahn
Bulletin Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, article by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen and Richard Prince, 1997

Walter Dahn “Station to Station” – Kunstraum Ulm
Texte zur Kunst, article by Philip Pocock, November 1994

Interview of Walter Dahn
Journal of Contemporary Art, interview by Richard Prince, 1994

Brennpunkt 2 – Die Siebziger Jahre
Kunstforum International, article by Jochen Becker, 1991

A Bootful of Brains: The Soulful Image of Walter Dahn
Artscribe, article by Wilfried Dickhoff, April/May 1986

Biography

Walter Dahn (*1954, St. Tönis) lives in Cologne. Selected solo exhibitions include Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover (2019), Kunstmuseum Basel (2018), Venus over Manhatten (2013), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1997), Kunsthalle zu Kiel (1994), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (1989), and Kunsthalle Basel; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Kunstmuseum Hannover, Hanover (all 1986) and Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn (1985). In addition his work has been part of several group exhibitions such as Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal (both 2020), Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen (2018), Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Mumok, Vienna (both 2016), Städel Museum, Frankfurt (2015), NCCA, Moscow (2012), HVCCA, New York (2011), Sabanci Museum, Istanbul (2011), Tate Modern, London (2007), Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (2006), Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (2002), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1996),  Biennale of Sydney (1992), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1989), Museum of Modern Art, New York (1984), documenta 7, Kassel (1982).

Education
1971–77 Study at Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf
1977 Master Student with Joseph Beuys, Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf
Teaching
1995– Professor of Painting, Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Brunswick
Public Collections
Groninger Museum, Groningen
Kunstmuseum Basel
Kunstpalais Erlangen
Kupferstich Kabinett, Berlin
Museum für Moderne Kunst MMK, Frankfurt
Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen
Rubell Family Collection / Contemporary Arts Foundation, Miami
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
Schaulager, Basel
Städel Museum, Frankfurt
Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Museum of Modern Art, New York
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas, MO