German exhibit hits more than one note

December 02, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Say contemporary German art to most people and they think neo-expressionism. They aren't wrong, but the show of contemporary German prints now at Grimaldis demonstrates clearly that the spectrum is wider than that.

There's ample expressionism, of course, by the likes of Georg Baselitz, Markus Lupertz and others.

But while expressionism often reflects the darker side of human experience, there is some levity here.

There's an element of humor in the shapes of Baselitz's "Nurse"; and while "Brett" reveals Baselitz's well-known upside-down figure, there's a hint of the witty caricature about this work.

Lupertz's "Red Line," with its intensity of gesture and color, certainly reflects expressionism; its eagle-like bird referring to German history and its "red line" with a leaf on each end -- possibly standing for an olive branch -- layers it with concerns of war and peace. But the same artist's little print "Theatrical Fishkill" possesses surrealistic touches in its odd juxtapositions: the title itself incorporates one such juxtaposition, and there are others in the bits and pieces that make up the quirky central figure.

A. R. Penck's "Woman with Garter Belts" is fraught with art

history. It's clearly in the tradition of odalisques, and specifically refers to Manet's "Olympia," especially in the way the figure's glance engages the viewer's. But this is a late 20th century odalisque; Penck, knowing that nudity itself no longer raises an eyebrow, puts clothes -- underclothes -- on his female to make her look suggestive; and her gaze is no longer challenging, like Olympia's -- it's simply matter-of-fact.

In contrast to the more or less overt emotionalism of these artists, there are the works of Imi Knoebel, Gunther Forg and Arnulf Rainer: much cooler, but nevertheless engaged with human experience.

Rainer's "Violet," with its densely packed overlapping dark lines, has the beauty of a cloudless, moonless night lighted by clusters of stars; but it also suggests the motion of a curtain falling.

It's night falling, with the overtones of approaching death that nightfall contains; and because a cross form can be discerned, the death becomes specific -- the crucifixion -- as well as general.

Knoebel's "Red/White" consists of several rows of squares in which the color changes from all red in the first to all white in the last, with combinations of both in between.

Colors have their levels of emotional value, but in its understated way this print proves that white can be just as intense as red, yet more nuanced.

Forg's "Untitled (Blue)," with its window shapes superimposed on downward-rushing undulations, plays off solid against liquid, static against dynamic, geometric against organic, intellectual against emotional, imprisoned spirit against free one.

In the rear space at Grimaldis is a group of furniture/sculpture works by Tom Seiler.

Each one is functional but they all have a sculptural feel as well.

The best of them are those which, while remaining anchored in the functional, most closely resemble sculpture, such as the pair of end tables which, with their sleek aluminum tops and pock-marked cement bases, suggest an intriguing kind of minimalism that's almost romantic.

ART REVIEW

What: "Contemporary German Prints"

Where: C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 N. Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Dec. 31

Call: (410) 539-1080

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