A.R. Penck - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    A.R. Penck, 'AUFSTAND DER SPIELER', Lot 11

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Galerie Terminus, Munich
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘Discord of signs and symbols / In the whirlwind of moving forms, / As the spark soars over tongues of flame, / And dark clouds tear open in the raging storm.’ – A.R. Penck

    Characteristically simplified in form and ranging from small to large, five anonymous figures traverse A.R. Penck’s AUFSTAND DER SPIELER, 2001, with unruly vigour, identified by the work’s title ‘The Rebellion of the Gamblers’. Surrounded by energetic black strokes carefully devised on a white background, delineating familiar objects such as spears, hammers, an eye and a dice, these pulsating characters exemplify the German artist’s vibrant ‘Standart’ style, heavily informed by the aesthetic of hieroglyphs and cave paintings. ‘Standart’, coined by Penck himself, conflates the English word ‘Standard’ and the German ‘Standarte’, signifying a banner or flag. As such, the umbrella-genre denotes the graphic power of his compositions, but also the political undertones that they bear. The artist furthermore expanded; ‘Every Standart can be imitated and reproduced and can thus become the property of every individual. What we have here is a true democratisation of art’ (A.R. Penck, quoted in Oliver Basciano, ‘A.R. Penck Obituary’, The Guardian, 5 May 2017, online).

    Born Ralf Winkler in Dresden in 1939, A.R. Penck adopted his infamous pseudonym after the East German communist regime began seizing his works during the 1960s. The artist had already been working in Dresden with difficulty for a decade, failing to enrol in sanctioned art academies and thus resigning himself to making paintings and sculptures from discarded rubbish. His visceral drawings, pried on by the regime’s watchful eye, were considered an expression of dissidence. It is perhaps as a result of this oppression that Penck assumed a new name in 1966, testament of a token to start afresh. His next and final sign of resistance to the GDR’s hostile environment was his escape to Cologne in 1980; thereafter, along with artists including Jörg Immendorff, Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz, he became a key protagonist of the new figuration movement that was flourishing in the Federal Republic of Germany. Executed in 2001, exactly ten years after the fall of the Berlin wall, AUFSTAND DER SPIELER captures the crux of Penck’s mature opus, following his establishment as a major German artist in the 1980s, and his five prodigious decades of painterly production. The composition reveals the artist’s idiosyncratic style, for which he immediately became celebrated upon his move West; in it, thickly-outlined stick-figures are portrayed walking towards or running away from one another, armed with spear-shaped objects and surrounded by a vortex of spirals, dashes and dots.

    Though one may visually associate works such as AUFSTAND DER SPIELER to the similarly visceral and cartoon-like iconography of Keith Haring, context elucidates that a steep discrepancy exists between the two artists’ approaches and visions. While Haring painted immediacy to materialise a necessity to act in times of physical danger – precipitated by the AIDS crisis – Penck designed roving figures to compensate for the lack of movement allowed in East Germany following the erection of the Berlin wall. ‘His crowded scenes suggested conflict, or deep psychic distress, annotated in a forgotten hieroglyphic language or a proto-computer code, and set in a time that seemed at once mythic and contemporary’, writes William Grimes (William Grimes, ‘A.R. Penck, German Neo-Expressionist of Cold-War Era, Dies at 77’, The New York Times, 5 May 2017, online). By pairing notions of anguish and dynamism with a ‘primitive’ and almost childlike pictorial language, the artist constructs a picture that is wholly universal, profound on levels both symbolic and formal.

    Regarding Penck’s unique formal approach and ensuing aesthetic, Johannes Schmidt delectably synthesised; ‘With his signs, symbols, metaphors and even allegories [Penck] made use of an aesthetic range of instruments which had been neglected or disposed in modern art. At the same time, however, he also used radical simplification and linearity to form a completely new style which differed markedly from the language of forms based on antiquity, which had prevailed throughout the centuries from the Renaissance to Art Nouveau. He also included the energetic, informal brushwork and the serial methods of Op Art, and equally happily added Expressionist figures. Perhaps we can see in the art of A.R. Penck the beginning of Post-Modernism’ (Johannes Schmidt, Being and Essence: The Unknown A.R. Penck, Dresden, 2008, n.p.). A prodigious reflection of this, AUFSTAND DER SPIELER exists beyond its evident art historical lineage, and additionally brings to mind contemporary technologies employing code-induced forms.

    The stick-figure in Penck’s oeuvre became vital to his communicative scheme including text, symbol and image. With it, he could further humanise and thus animate the rhythmic arrangements he devised across his surfaces, largely taking cues from jazz music. Himself a drummer and indeed part of a band in the late 1980s, Penck affirmed that there was an inherent connection between music and his art. ‘Yes, in the rhythm because I am very interested in rhythm’, he said (A.R. Penck, quoted in ‘Interviews: A.R. Penck’, Journal of Contemporary Art, vol. 7, no. 1, Summer 1994, pp. 80-88). With its raw immediacy and energetic syntax, AUFSTAND DER SPIELER reads like the visual manifestation of a jazz solo.



signed 'ar. penck' lower centre; further titled 'AUFSTAND DER SPIELER' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
160.3 x 120.2 cm (63 1/8 x 47 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2001.

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £200,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020