Magazine article Artforum International

Klaus Hartmann

Magazine article Artforum International

Klaus Hartmann

Article excerpt

NICOLE KLAGSBRUN GALLERY

Near the entrance to Klaus Hartmann's first solo New York exhibition was a large digital print of a somewhat desolate barn-like structure out of which grew a narrow, three-story square tower topped by a small observation deck. With its surreal appendage, oversize doors, and stucco-covered brick facade, the building appears to be some bizarre yet strangely familiar modern architectural hybrid. (In fact, the edifice is an old firehouse in East Germany.) This blend of the alienating with the nostalgic was a perfect introduction to Hartmann's show, which brought together a peculiar range of aesthetics in photographs, photo collages, and paintings.

In five untitled color photographs, Hartmann began by charting a territory of taste from middle-class banality (an isolated palm tree from a public landscape) to sheer kitsch (figures from the Wild West crafted entirely out of lightbulbs at a country fair). Despite the frequent garishness of his chosen subjects, the images remain oddly nonjudgmental, with a matter-of-fact quality that seems to reflect the artist's ability to maintain a critical distance.

Indeed, the feeling that Hartmann might even share in such a middlebrow aesthetic sensibility was suggested by the photo collages, in which quasi-erotic pictures of bikini-clad female mud wrestlers taken from popular magazines were pasted into otherwise pristine outdoor settings such as billowing grasses or a private garden. The deliberately awkward inclusion of women muddying themselves up in incongruous environments functions as a wry comment on the medium's formal principle of disjuncture, while the figures' ironic return to nature becomes a prelude to the dislocation and conceptual layering evident in the paintings.

In Hartmann's canvases, many of the photo collages' elements - women, nature scenes, and fairgrounds, among them - become further aestheticized as they yield to a medley of pictorial languages taken from the history of art. …

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