Günther Förg, Untitled, 1988
A commanding example of Günther Förg's multi-disciplinary oeuvre, Untitled belongs to one of the artist's most iconic series, commenced in the early 1980s and celebrating the versatility of lead. A study in contradictions, Untitled prodigiously showcases the artist's ability to balance rigorous lines and unrestrained strokes, painterly two-dimensionality and sculptural texture.
Lead Paintings installed at Günther Förg - A Fragile Beauty, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 26 May - 14 October 2018. © Estate Günther Förg, Suisse / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Image: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Rendering homage to a number of eminent figures of the avant-garde, Untitled is redolent of Blinky Palermo's ingenious aluminum paintings, Donald Judd's rigorous geometric constructions and Barnett Newman's deeply reduced planes while exuding a force of abstraction distinctively its own. Masterfully flattening discrete textures and materials, the painting hovers between milky translucence and impenetrable density, conjuring a sense of depth that ostensibly digs into its own surface.
Barnett Newman Onement IV, 1949. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio, USA. © The Barnett Newman Foundation New York/DACS, London 2019. Image: Bridgeman Images.
Although Untitled's rich yellow summons the viewer's eye faster than the coarseness of its chromatic grey, Förg underscored the latter color as a starting point from which his compositions could expand. A pigment that captivated Förg throughout his career, gray pervaded much of the artist's practice across the various media he experimented with; his black and white photography, early gray monochromes and later Lead Paintings all converged in celebrating the polymorphous nature of the color.
Sensuously raw and unpolished, Untitled nonetheless departs from the liminal staticity of the lead's coloration as the artist introduces a luminous tone, warm like an egg's yolk, at the bottom half of the painting's surface. The two constitutive colors' neat separation summons the rigor and formality of minimalist composition, yet the brightness of the heliacal color suffuses the lead's metallic heaviness with hints of gleaming light. These two contradicting yet mutually invigorating energies showcase the artist's distinctive command of balance, as well as his desire to explore a "clarity of form with an expressionist handling."
I think painting is a resilient practice; if you look through the history of painting it doesn't change so much and we always see it in the present. It is still now.
Whereas the minimalist artists' work relied on the reduction of form and the avid promotion of clean geometry, Förg indeed placed special emphasis on painterly texture and depth, extending his predecessors' spatial investigations through uncalculated gestures and incongruous material juxtapositions.
Presaging future experimentation with brighter color palettes, Untitled is a stellar synthesis of the artist's practice. Situated at the core of his oeuvre, it exists alongside a range of comparable works housed in esteemed public collections, namely the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.