Neo Rauch (b. 1960)
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Neo Rauch (b. 1960)

Kalter Mai (Cold May)

Details
Neo Rauch (b. 1960)
Kalter Mai (Cold May)
signed and dated 'RAUCH 10' (lower right)
oil on canvas
82 5/8 x 118 ½in. (209.9 x 300cm.)
Painted in 2010
Provenance
Galerie EIGEN + ART, Leipzig/Berlin.
Private Collection, New York.
David Zwirner, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014.
Literature
Neo Rauch: Ausgewählte Werke Selected Works 1993-2012, exh. cat., Berlin, Galerie EIGEN + ART, 2013, p. 177 (illustrated in colour, pp. 38-39).
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Lot Essay

Spanning three metres in width, Kalter Mai (Cold May) (2010) is a monumental, dreamlike canvas by Neo Rauch. In apparent homage to Manet’s Le déjeuner sur lherbe (1863), two men and a woman sit at a picnic table amid dark, lush foliage. One man, wearing a smoking cap and brown coat, gestures towards the other, who seems unconcerned by the bright purple tentacle emerging from his companion’s sleeve. The purple is echoed in the second man’s shoes, completing a garish green and orange outfit. The woman looks calmly ahead. On some orange steps in the foreground rest the remains of their meal, including a bean-pod and what looks like a black bar of soap. Parts of the trees burn out into flat, amorphous abstraction – flares of off-white ringed with mauve – as if scrubbed with turpentine or over-brightened in Photoshop. In the distance, a church is flanked by two vast, black monoliths, which glow ominously into the sky. Though his compositions frequently harbour the sense that a story is being told, Rauch warns against attempts to decipher their content. He pulls source material from the deep subconscious currents of his dreams and the magical worldview of childhood memory, and arranges these elements according to pictorial rather than narrative logic. ‘My basic artistic approach to the phenomena of this world is that I let things permeate through me, without any hierarchical pre-selection’, the artist has explained. ‘And from the material I filter out, I then construct a private, very personal mosaic’ (N. Rauch, quoted in H. Liebs, ‘Nothing Embarrasses me Now’, in Neo Rauch: para, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007, p. 18). Painted without any preparatory sketches or underdrawing, Kalter Mai witnesses this flow in miraculous action, its chromatic rhymes and fairytale atmosphere creating a compelling scene of total, mesmerising mystery.

‘Inexplicable zones are necessary,’ says Rauch, ‘because otherwise the image will dry out, because it will become completely disinfected. I have to keep on deciding at which point in the process of making a painting I have to make that cut and put in fields of interference. That always happens when the feeling arises that the spelled-out parts have taken the upper hand’ (N. Rauch, quoted in ibid.). His compositions thrive on cross-contamination, intrusion and enigma – to make an image legible would be to deprive it of its magic. If no one picture can be decoded, however, his oeuvre is punctuated by recurring motifs and structures. The forces of Surrealism, advertising, Surrealism and Pop can all be felt, while his figural style takes cues from Socialist Realist propaganda – a legacy of his upbringing in Leipzig, East Germany. Indeed, the divisions of German history come alive in the disjunctions of his paintings. Kalter Mai’s densely realised trees echo the country’s heritage of 19th-century Romanticism, which sought sublime meaning in the natural world; the men’s Biedermeier outfits have a similarly period flavour. In contrast, the stark, looming black buildings in the distance speak of the utilitarian aesthetic of Communist housing blocks. Along with the tentacle, they lace the work with a distinct edge of sci-fi. The trees’ pictorial burnout, meanwhile, threatens to dissolve the entire mirage. ‘The half-waking moment,’ says Rauch, ‘in which matter adrift gets caught up in my filter chambers and is organised into new arrangements, is the essence of my painterly work’ (N. Rauch, quoted in Neo Rauch: Neue Rollen. Paintings 1993-2006, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 2006, p. 166). Kalter Mai enacts the enchanted, liminal state of that ‘half-waking moment’. Its metamorphic figures and setting conjure overlaid parallel worlds, fantasising a simultaneity of past, present and future. Where even our most fantastic dreams often fade from memory once we open our eyes, Rauch fixes the motions of his subconscious onto canvas, suspending incongruity in a spellbinding, impossible fabric of painterly invention.

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