Werner von Mutzenbecher: “turn around”
23 March – 11 May 2019
The exhibition’s title, “turn around”, programmatically characterises the most recent work of Werner von Mutzenbecher (b.1937). Following the “Spiegelungen” (Reflections), which were the focus of his 2018 exhibition at the Kunstraum Riehen, the painter is putting a new spin on things and exploring the relationship between format, figure and ground in an exciting new way. While the reflections largely ran parallel to the axes and edges of the pictures and were thus also static in conception, diagonals are now increasingly setting his compositions in motion. As an artistic strategy, rotation is not just a universal principle of design that can be found in the art of ancient cultures, it is also part of a visual idiom whose roots lie in the Constructivist and Suprematist compositions created in Russia and Europe in the early 20th century. Rotation dynamises the pictorial space, it links and varies the orientation of forms and it also seduces our eyes and thoughts to go in circles.
Werner von Mutzenbecher’s new pictures take the shape of fragments broken off from a monumental “ornamentum mundi” and cast in a contemporary form. They transform themselves into the red marks left by a branding iron or become extinguished to form black symbols. The coloured forms appear on top of a subtle grid of pencil lines which enable viewers to experience the image’s genesis. Whether in monochromatic shapes or as complex networks of lines, they are designed to present a challenge to the eye, which turns the works into something like the panels used in perceptual studies.
The artist records his ideas in countless drawings on graph paper: gathered into folders, these form the foundation for new compositions. In a simultaneously playful and analytic manner, he creates compositions that are reduced to just a few defining principles. The intersection, mirroring, shifting and rotation of shapes and lines are the source of a great variety of new forms. This shape is not predetermined, instead, it generates itself within the drawing process in order to later become invested with a new presence through its enlargement on the canvas.
At the same time, this sheerly inexhaustible stream of designs convincingly takes its place within the overall context of the oeuvre that Werner von Mutzenbecher has been developing since the 1960s on the basis of a geometrical formal idiom. This also includes the most recent small-format works on folded, cut and painted packing paper. His artistic vocabulary has become simplified over nearly 60 years; the early spatial complexes have disappeared to be replaced by an ostensibly two-dimensional image. Perhaps the new pictures are even more radical in terms of their underlying tone. Often they are no more than just two identical forms, which emerge in new conglomerations when they are shifted. In calm symmetry or set in motion through the interrelationship of incongruent values, they become our energetic partner in a dialogue that merges seeing and thinking into a sensual unity.
Iris Kretzschmar, lic. phil., March 20
Translation : Michael Wetzel