Neo Rauch (b. 1960)
Property from an Important West Coast Collection
Neo Rauch (b. 1960)


Neo Rauch (b. 1960)
signed and dated 'RAUCH 99' (lower right)
oil on paper
32 x 59 ½ in. (81.3 x 151.1 cm.)
Painted in 1999.
Galerie EIGEN+ART, Berlin
Private collection, The Netherlands
David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Y. Yablonsky, "Drawing Now: Eight Propositions," ARTnews, vol. 102, January 2003, p. 119 (illustrated).
Leipzig, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst; Munich, Haus der Kunst and Zürich, Kunsthalle, Neo Rauch: Randgebiet, December 2000-August 2001, pp. 106 and 141 (illustrated and detail illustrated on the cover).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Drawing Now: Eight Propositions, October 2002-January 2003, p. 173.

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Alex Berggruen
Alex Berggruen

Lot Essay

Inspired in part by the visual symbolism of the Communist East Germany of his childhood and in part by his own dream images, Rauch’s paintings evoke an extraordinary retro-futuristic world, often borrowing motifs of the now-defunct propaganda posters, graphic illustrations and Socialist Realist statues and monuments of the Cold War era. The design themes and colors of the ungainly and artless consumer product packaging of East Germany also factor into the artist’s distinctive style, his color palettes seeming to express a complex, uneasy nostalgia for the image-culture of East Germany.

In the present work, Moder, the scene is a forest setting. Two rockets, seemingly borrowed from a science fiction story and of vaguely menacing appearance are positioned amid trees in a woodland landscape, their upright forms standing parallel to a few slender trees that the artist has rendered in monochrome shades of grey and white. Although seeming to project technological prowess, the presence of the rockets is enigmatic and it is unclear what their true purpose is, what or whom they may be targeting, or whether they are even functional or are merely for show.

A motorcycle and sidecar of perhaps 1950s vintage stands nearby as two figures, a man and a woman who must be its riders, their outward appearances resolute but of ambiguous intention, stride away from the vehicle, heading in opposite directions, their movements oblivious or uncoordinated in relation to each other. Their dress suggests the heavy leather riding togs of the 1920s or ‘30s, or perhaps some sort of military or police uniform. The man is holding folded papers that may be a map or important documents of some undisclosed subject matter. The pair project an air of authority mingled with uncertain intentions and a tinge of mystery.

Rectangles of green and yellow word balloons rise above the motorcyclist’s heads, but, strangely, no language fills them. The relationship of these figures to the nearby rockets is hard to discern. Are they inspecting the rockets? Preparing to launch them? Intending to sabotage them? The scene has an oddly formal tension, as though the motorcyclists are not carrying out actions of their own volition, but rather acting out appearances entirely for our benefit as the viewers.

The motorcycle and sidecar, the clothes worn by the figures, and the rockets all have the same faded red and yellow color scheme, suggesting the broad, flat palette of propaganda posters, book illustrations or comic strips. The uniform colors, with their straightforward repetition, pull the scene together in a formal sense, the consistent colors suggesting the diagrammatic clarity and simplicity of a political graphic.

A large tree in the extreme foreground, running diagonally from the top margin to the bottom of the canvas, divides the painting into left and right sections. In the current work as in Rauch’s work as a whole, the painting includes areas that are carefully drawn with much attention to detail, while other sections seem intentionally artless, with partial gestures of paint alongside voids. Areas of green paint imply that the forest floor is covered in moss, grass or leaves, while the scene’s background has a deliberately rough appearance, suggesting the flat color and absence of spatial depth of the paper support itself.

In the midst of this essentially realist-style painting float abstract shapes. Oddly but somehow appropriately, they have the same red/yellow color scheme as the major figurative elements of the scene, the shapes drifting across or hovering over the picture space, seeming to hang in the air between the scene and the viewer. Here, as in so much of Rauch’s work there is a strange and vaguely disconcerting aura, as the artist joins figurative imagery and abstract applications of paint in the same pictorial space.

Rauch’s work has been likened to that of Pop Art, but a uniquely East German style of Pop, which references the discarded politics and motifs, circa 1960s-1970s, of a now-vanished country, translated into the artist’s unique visual language. The imagery blends motifs from the political/social world in which the artist grew up together with Rauch’s own subconscious dream-state visions, and projects an extraordinary imaginative world all its own, both captivating and enigmatic. Melding figuration and abstraction with odd and unlikely juxtapositions, his art includes unexpected details that conjure startling narrative and visual impressions.

Born in Leipzig where he continues to make his home and teach art, Rauch began to receive significant attention from both collectors and museums around the year 2000. By the mid-2000s, Neo Rauch was recognized as a leading figure of what has been called the New Leipzig School painters, whose generational experience straddle the Cold War era and the post-reunification era of Germany, a time period whose art and social-political climate inform the work of the compelling contemporary painters of this school.

Rauch’s enigmatic style of representational art draws on elements of early 20th Century Surrealism while merging obsolete Cold War motifs. With its unconscious dream logic, it conjures an enchanted visual space with peculiar rules that captivate us at the same time that we do not fully understand them. For all its extraordinary idiosyncrasy, however, the present work projects its spell over the viewer, the world the artist shows us occupying a space somewhere between the past and the future, political hope and reality, the social world and the individual, dreaming life and waking life.

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