Günther Förg was a German painter with quite a forbidding aesthetic - grainy architectural photographs, often of buildings built for a Fascist government - and monochrome acrylic paintings on a lead backing. He’s also selling well, if the three commercial gallery shows of his work in London alone over the past few months are any guide.
Two of them are running at the moment, one at Max Hetzler and one at Luxembourg & Dayan, and offer a good guide to both types. In the former, I loved the pair of grainy, blown-up, colour washed photos, one of the Villa Malaparte in Capri, the other of the monumental back staircase of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. Both had a spooky, crime-scene vibe.
Over at Luxembourg & Dayan, there’s a spectacular grid of the acrylic on lead paintings, all from the late 80s and early 90s. Looking closely, the thin layers of paint over the metal lays bare the shaky, irregular brushstrokes. In bold patches, the metal is unpainted.
The show notes highlight Förg’s critical relationship to Modernism - as well as the fascist brick structures that were themselves a reaction against that much-maligned movement. He engaged with Modernism in post-modernist times, and his response is both sly and respectful.
Part of the critical engagement comes with his technique. Förg, who died in 2013, allowed his paintings to come together in an organic, unplanned way; very unlike planned Modernist regularity. The point’s underlined by photos from Peter Fischli and David Weiss that hang alongside Förg’s paintings (Fischli helped with the exhibition), which show worse-for-wear and lived-in Modernist-inspired buildings and roads.
It’s easy to criticise, harder to offer an alternative to what you’re criticising. Förg does both! I hope his commercial viability continues, so I can keep coming to these kinds of shows.
Hauser & Wirth announced last year that they’re representing his estate. So get on it please!
Günther Förg - An Intimate Encounter: The Early Years is at Max Hetzler (London). 19 February - 06 April 2019. Förg: From and against Modernism, with a response by Fischli & Weiss is at Luxembourg & Dayan (London). 05 March – 04 May 2019