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Alex Katz & Vroni Schwegler

28. September. 2017

7 - 10 pm

Text: Angelica Horn, scroll down.

During my studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, I got to know and appreciate the painting of Alex Katz in a wonderful seminar by Joachim Peter Kastner. Later at Stādelschule Frankfurt I spent many hours talking to Vroni about Titian, Rubens, and many other painters and exchanged ideas with her, also about Alex Katz. We were often in agreement, but in his case, we were not.

For this One - Night - Exhibition I invited Vroni Schwegler to juxtapose two of her early portrait paintings with a silkscreen of Alex Katz, a self-portrait, which is in our collection.

Alex Katz born July 24, 1927, is an American figurative artist known for his paintings, sculptures, and prints. He is represented by numerous galleries internationally.

Vroni Schwegler writes about one of her portraits:
In Laetitia's Kitchen (1994) is a picture from my student days in the class of Hermann Nitsch at the Städelschule.
For a few months, I had been in a relationship with the filmmaker Günter Zehetner, who had moved from Vienna to Frankfurt half because of my studies with Peter Kubelka in the class for film and cooking as an art form and half because of me. Laetitia is his landlady in Frankfurt, who may not have it easy with us: Her kitchen is the scene of our struggle for our respective identities as artists and as a couple. The painting reflects this existential fundamental phase and shows my involvement with early Italian painting, with Giotto above all, whom I particularly admired at that time.

Vroni Schwegler studied art at the Städelschule, University of Fine Arts, Frankfurt/M., class Hermann Nitsch, master student.


Still Life and Portrait
Vroni Schwegler and Alex Katz in the exhibition series „“.

by Angelica Horn

The entering person first looks at a rather large-format and brightly colored frontal portrait of a young-looking man hanging on the front wall opposite her, and Alex Katz obviously. Then she looks at the people in the room who are standing on the walls between the works shown, looking at them, naming what has been noticed and asking questions of the artist of the other two portrait pictures shown, Vroni Schwegler. Then the conversation turns to the portrait of Alex Katz; the question is how to interpret its expression. It is quiet, almost silent - quite different from the usual hustle and bustle at an exhibition opening.

On each of the two side walls hangs a two-person piece by Vroni Schwegler, pictures that were painted by her during her studies at the Frankfurt Städelschule under Hermann Nitsch, a year before she took up her position on the cross at one of Nitsch's great orgy-mystery theaters in Prinzendorf in Austria. The two paintings can be described as portraits in so far as they reveal something of the essence and personality of the two sitters, but more than that, the relationship between the two is represented. The two persons, who show a certain similarity to each other, stand or sit in an interior space. In the picture marked "In Laetitia's Kitchen January 1994" the woman, dressed only in underpants, stands a little behind the dressed man, in the picture marked "Günter and I for Berni 13.4." the undressed woman sits on the upper leg of the otherwise naked man dressed in a white shirt. In spite of all the solidarity portrayed, there is no impression of an intimate unity; rather, each person seems to remain in a certain isolation. In terms of painting, it is the relationship between the two figures on the picture surface that is at issue, but in terms of content, it is the balancing of a relationship, the problem of one's own location in relation to the other and to oneself. If the male figure is of a certain statuary nature and stature, then the female figure is of a more demanding nature, but more placeless. The pictures do not tell a story, but reveal a condition, form a kind of exposure or disclosure. If it is a matter of the relationship between bodies in space and surface, one can speak of a still life.

The private character of the pictures is maintained right down to the individual color settings. It is about subjective sensitivity and sensitization. Today she can no longer paint so naively and unbiasedly, the artist said on this evening, having been confronted with these early works herself for a long time, and a regret resonates. The pictures are painted from the head. In the final analysis, the people portrayed have no other status in the painting than the things otherwise in the picture, which form the setting or accessories and help to determine or comment on the balancing of the relationship. The viewer may feel an inclination to imagine what is depicted as a real situation and to live it up as if he could get hold of the thing. It is a game of subjective self-determination that is open in itself.

The silkscreen by Alex Katz is quite different from these two-person portraits. Alex Katz is concerned with the isolation and composition of individual coloured surfaces, the meaning of which is measured by the respective silhouette and the meaning of which consists in the glow of the colour itself, as if light (or shadow) were lying on it. The gaze of the portrayed person, it is a self-portrait, which belongs to the portfolio work "Alex and Ada: The 1960's to the 1990's" from 1990 under the title "Sweatshirt 2"; this gaze constitutes the relationship to the viewer. In addition, it captures the surfaces, the overall context of the picture, so to speak, because it's hard to escape it and to refrain from it for once. There is nothing private here, but here the pure and clear public presentation and self-representation applies. What does one experience here of the interior, of the essence of what is depicted? Here the surface rules, and there is nothing but the surface in its own expression. "My pictures are in your face," Alex Katz once formulated.

The artist makes his own image available to the viewer, which says nothing but a self-sufficiency, an openness that reveals nothing. The surfaces without volumes do not actually form an object, perhaps a symbol of it. There is no resistance, no resistance. This may be perceived as pleasant or decorative, but it also means a form of domination, not least because the "portrait" is larger than life. Portrait is  put in quotation marks, in so far as I am confronted here with someone with whom I do not feel I have a real relationship. Perhaps it is about the sweatshirt as a sign and about physiognomy as a sign of interpretability? It is about the extremely precise and in itself completely abstract relationship of colored areas in their respective colorfulness to each other, which leaves an impressive effect. The picture is printed in twenty-six colours. The delicacy in detail, the work on the exactness creates the freshness and liveliness of the expression. Perhaps this is the essence of the portrayed person?  It remains the juxtaposition that holds the viewer.

Being a person is reflected in completely different ways by the works shown in this exhibition of the series " " in the "compartment" in front of the shared studio at 31 Langestraße in Frankfurt, organized by Carolin Kropff: On the one hand, it is about the clear and defined confrontation of viewer and image, and on the other hand, it is about the imagination and realization of the person-in-relation. This opens up a field in which the viewer may locate himself, if he does not enter the dark studio to turn to a drink and other conversations.

(Copyright Angelica Horn, Frankfurt am Main 2017) (See original text on the German page.)

Kindly supported by Kulturamt Frankfurt.



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