Walter Dahn 1980–83 / 2014: 2 Räume
January 30–April 2, 2015
The majority of artistic careers are stories of ruptures and interruptions. Frequently it is only in hindsight that continuity becomes visible. Walter Dahn 1980 – 83 / 2014: 2 Spaces, the new exhibition at Sprüth Magers Berlin, focuses on works from two periods by the influential Cologne artist Walter Dahn, which may initially appear disparate. The gallery’s main space is hung with Dahn’s early painterly work, which emerged from the milieu of the “Mühlheimer Freiheit” artists’ group. Those paintings, which were also shown at documenta 7 in 1982, forged perceptions of a generation of artists who today are often identified as the Neue Wilde. In contrast Dahn’s screen prints from 2014 are on display on the upper floor of the gallery. In an almost tender manner, they engage the visual spaces of our everyday perceptions and our inner phantoms. Only under closer examination does it become clear that in many respects these are actually a continuation of the artist‘s early works.
Both Dahn’s large and small-scale paintings from 1980 to 1983 are united in their singular historical examination of painting, all of them appearing to have been done rapidly, even carelessly. The acrylic and emulsion paints run, composition and brushwork appear impulsive and negligently painted figurative elements are frequently mere outlines perfunctorily delineated on the pictorial surface. Skulls morph into peace symbols or stare at a drink, bizarre body parts hold cigarettes, and Beuysian hats on sticks are arrayed against an abyss. These images are paintings that embrace content, which is expressed above all by means of jokes and erratic slogans. Painting that proclaims the figurative, but which repeatedly lands in the grotesque and semi-obscene. Painting that infuses its pictorial space with emblems of Punk’s attitudes to life, whilst simultaneously poking fun at them. Dahn’s paintings are apparently against everything. They are evidence of an extraordinary artistic instinct, one which only finds itself when working against itself. They are paintings which are painting despite themselves.