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A. R. Penck (1939-2017)
A. R. Penck (1939-2017)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
A. R. Penck (1939-2017)

General a, b, c

Details
A. R. Penck (1939-2017)
General a, b, c
signed 'ar. penck' (lower right); signed and titled 'ar. penck "general a, b, c"' (on the stretcher)
acrylic on canvas
180 x 120cm.
Painted in 1998
Provenance
Galerie Terminus, Munich (acquired directly from the artist in 1999).
Private Collection, Vienna (acquired from the above in 2002).
Private Collection, Switzerland.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Elvira Jansen
Elvira Jansen

Lot Essay

Executed in 1998, General a, b, c exemplifies the complex world of symbols and systems that have fuelled the works of A. R. Penck since the development of his iconic Standart style in the late 1960s. In this large-scale painting, an animated stick figure is rendered in scarlet red against a mottled blue background, awash with an enigmatic lexicon of cyphers. Penck’s signature aesthetic is characterised by a ‘primitive’ and almost childlike pictorial language of simplified forms, mask-like heads, totemic imagery and rudimentary stick figures over vibrant backdrops of primary colours. Coined by the artist himself, the term ‘Standart’ was born from a conflation of the English word ‘Standard’ and the German Standarte, meaning ‘banner’ or ‘flag’. Indeed, taking its first impulses from visual systems like cave paintings, tribal art and hieroglyphics, Penck’s reductive approach is emblematic of a human universality. Replete with the artist’s impulsive brushwork, expression and spontaneity, the primitive symbols in works like the present recall the African masks that Picasso and other artists from the early 20th century used as inspiration in their art. At the same time, the dynamism and exuberance in General a, b, c is testament to Penck’s love of music. A keen drummer, pianist and guitarist, the artist was a member of a jazz group, and, when asked by curator Klaus Ottmann in a 1985 interview whether he saw a relationship between music and his paintings, he responded, ‘Yes, in the rhythm because I am very interested in rhythm’ (A. R. Penck, quoted in ‘Interviews: A. R. Penck’, in Journal of Contemporary Art, vol. 7, no. 1, Summer 1994, pp. 80-88). With its raw immediacy and schematic syntax, the recurring motifs in this work read like a visual manifestation of jazz’s improvised syncopation.
Born in Dresden in 1939, Penck grew up in a divided and war-torn Germany, which was to greatly inform his artistic practice. In the 1970s, under the watchful eye of the East German communist regime, the secret police began confiscating many of his artworks on account of alleged dissidence. By 1980, he was formally expatriated and moved to West Germany where his career flourished. Painted some nine years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, General a, b, c seems nonetheless troubled by a deep-rooted sense of the artist’s own hybrid and split identity: in symbolic hues of red and blue, its asymmetrical stickman presents an underlying duality. At once figurative and abstract, modern and otherworldly, Penck’s paintings speak of the present even as they are firmly rooted in the past. As William Grimes has commented, ‘His crowded scenes suggested conflict, or deep psychic distress, annotated in a forgotten hieroglyphic language or a proto-computer code, and set in a time that seemed at once mythic and contemporary’ (W. Grimes, ‘A. R. Penck, German Neo-Expressionist of Cold-War Era, Dies at 77,’ New York Times, 5 May 2017).

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