Magazine article Artforum International

Abandoned Painting

Magazine article Artforum International

Abandoned Painting

Article excerpt

EVEN THOUGH THE SMALL REPRODUCTIONS of Jochen Klein's paintings that I saw many years ago, in a catalogue loaned to me by a friend, nestled themselves obstinately in my mind, I am always surprised by these inimitably weird and touching works when I see them in person. They do not age, and to stand in front of them brings back an unmistakable quiver of shrill sweetness. The paintings have such a lightness that it's easy to miss their significance. But it is in contempt of the artistic taxonomies on which such judgments are founded that Klein's paintings--exhibited most recently at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich this past spring--evince a self-conscious use of the medium against itself, infiltrating painting with alien implications. They are landscapes without genealogy, heterotopias that insist on the freedom to call into reality something that has not yet existed, which cannot exist. Revealing themselves in layers that are not pure and that keep dissolving or tearing away at one another, they have the particular quality of a blurry sensation turned into an image. When a cobbled-together fantasy coalesces as a distinct vision, as it does in Klein's paintings, it follows the logic of the fragment that dreams itself whole.

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Children, young men, or women (sometimes in the company of domesticated animals)--cut from popular printed material such as calendars, posters, or hetero "soft" porn--are collaged onto canvas and elaborated, given a setting by their painted surroundings of trees, clearings, patches of flowers, and the streaks, daubs, and drips of paint that also count as flowers, pleasure, delight. Filigree shorthand, vermicular strokes, and halos of light hang together in the conviction that ornament is a code for the chaotic relatedness of incidents. When the figures are not glued, but painted with Watteau-like delicacy, they remain foreign to the landscape that has been dreamed up around them--or which they themselves are dreaming, in wilder, experimental strokes.

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Where is this place, between art history and any afternoon, lying in the sun in a public park? Is it the surrealism of childhood? Academic painting, parlor painting, Sunday painting, the hysterical dream kitsch of antihistamine commercials? People appear, isolated in brief instances of rest, privacy, reflection, amid passages of flamboyant color, as though I were passing them on a bicycle. A peculiar interiority is heightened by the draining of narrative--the paintings are moments of quiet, pauses drawn out to a complete stillness in which I find myself. I am reminded by these works of the potential for paintings to embarrass: I am never sure how to behave around them; they seem to know my foibles. Some flirt, or correspond to a recent mood, like the ballerina wearing a concerned look as, above, a squall of viscous varnish threatens to overcome her. Or like the young man in a pale blue summer shirt, in another painting, who looks out at me with great benevolence, emanating such sweet-toothed empathy that everything around him falls out of focus: distortions of vision induced by great happiness, silliness, sadness, love. The shirtless boy in blue jeans, huddled on a blanket in the grass, his hands comfortingly close to his face, dreams with his eyes open and I can't stand to look for very long. It is, as Michel Leiris wrote of the theatricality of death,

  a dream objectified, a dream that we look at, that touches us though
  we are not in it--What can this be, then, if not a set of actions
  that are proposed to us and that we consider with a passionate
  interest, as we would if, extracted from our lives but remaining
  lucid, we could be detached from our own history and see it played
  out before us, transformed by the perspective inherent in
  our new status? (2)

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While a student at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1990s, Klein actually abandoned painting, perhaps with no intention of ever returning to the tradition into which he had been educated. …

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