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

Standart (Gorgo)

A. R. Penck (b. 1939)
Standart (Gorgo)
inscribed 'Gorgo is my friend' (centre right)
acrylic on canvas
116 x 116in. (294.5 x 294.5cm.)
Painted in 1970
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Sothebys New York, 5 May 1980, lot 51.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Sothebys London, 26 October 1989, lot 411.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
R.A. Peltason (ed.), A.R. Penck, New York 1993, p. 127 (illustrated, p. 85).
Cologne, Josef-Haubrich Kunsthalle, A.R. Penck, 1981, p. 114, no. 73 (illustrated in colour, p. 31).
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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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Lot Essay

Born in Dresden in 1939, A.R. Penck was deeply affected by the images of a city laid to waste from bombings that he experienced from his bedroom window in 1945. An enduring influence in his artistic output, Penck stated, 'I am encumbered with many memories and events from East Germany. I return often to my childhood' (A.R. Penck, 'Text from A.R. Penck April 1982', in A.R. Penck, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, London, 1982, unpaged). Until his emigration to West Germany in 1980, Penck persevered in making art under the intolerably oppressive conditions in East Germany in staunch belief that his art could contribute to making a better version of Socialism. Penck developed his 'Standart' style in paintings, sculptures and models using a primitive stick figure with its arms raised toward the sky, evoking equal sensations of fear, in conjunction with his studies in cybernetics, the science of communication in machines and living things. The term Standart conflates 'standard' and 'standarte', a banner for a military unit and is the artist's most celebrated series. Taking its first impulses from visual systems like tribal art and hieroglyphics, Penck's Standart was designed as a complex vocabulary of signs and symbols with universal comprehension that had the potential to analyse the relationship between the individual and society. 'The Standart concept was intended as my positive contribution to socialism', Penck explained, Standart is also to do with the idea of objects which stand. My original idea was to erect something under socialism. And I'm still keen on the idea of erecting something here' (A.R. Penck, quoted in A. Schlieker, 'An Interview with A.R. Penck December 1986', in A.R. Penck, exh. cat., Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1989, unpaged).

The development of Standart in an East German context was foiled by the realities of the art landscape at that time. In 1968 Penck was denied full membership to the Association of Artists (VBK) at the end of his three-year probationary period, an event which confirmed that his art would continue to be ignored by in his native East Germany, as had been the case since 1962 when he was banned from showing his works in public. Indeed his break with traditional art forms and advancement of Standart can be understood in light of this event as it is from this time that we see Penck's practice split into those made for exhibition in East Germany and those made exclusively for exhibitions in the West where he had been receiving acclaim, participating in the Venice Biennale in 1984 and Documenta 5 in 1972. Those works created for exhibition beyond the borders of East Germany include almost all of his large-format canvases of which Standart (Gorgo) is one. This work was exhibited in 1981 at Josef-Haubrich Kunstalle, Cologne, the year after Penck was granted leave from East Germany.

The surface of Standart (Gorgo), replete with impulsive brushwork, captures the spontaneity of Penck's practice. The monstrous heads, desolate landscape, animated stick figures and soaring bird are an archetype of Penck's unconscious imagining which reoccur throughout this series and indeed his practice. The key to this innovative conflation of form, colour and sign is Penck's interest in such phenomena as cybernetics, information theory, codes and ciphers, all of which he exploits imaginatively, and sometimes humorously, in his pictures in order to analyse the social landscape of East Germany that comprised his personal and artistic practice.

The primitive symbols found in Standart (Gorgo) have an especially tribal feel to them which recalls the African masks that Picasso and other artists from the early 20th century used as inspiration in their art. Indeed Penck was a deeply influenced by the great modern master, noting in 1989 that 'I've always been strongly preoccupied with Picasso, partly because he was regarded as so suspect in East Germany' (A.R. Penck, quoted in A. Schlieker, 'An Interview with A.R. Penck December 1986', in A.R. Penck, exh. cat., Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1989, unpaged). Penck also borrows from primitive art in his use of emblematic animals in opposition as metaphors, more often than not, of the German condition. Standart (Gorgo) takes the Ancient Greek myth of the Gorgons, the three sisters of which Medusa is the most famous that were harbingers of dread as a metaphor to address the horrors of the past. Here Penck may have depicted East and West Germany as two Gorgons, wreaking terror on the helpless hostages above. In their placement, these Gorgons evoke two halves of the human brain, a motif that Penck often explored in his practice, where conflict and communication between East and West take place between the two. The interplay of figures imbues the work with various layers of meaning which are kept in perfect harmony through Penck's use of surface and colour encoded in Penck's singular lexicon of ciphers.

Appearing like a mural, the large format recalls sections of a wall covered with the detritus of mankind's modes of communication: graffiti, hieroglyphics, by-gone languages from another time and place. These large compositions attempted to consolidate Penck's earlier investigations into the nature of signs and symbols. In its equal measures of fear, defense, appeal and communication, works on this scale also have an element of the distillation of the military banner evoked in the punning title of the series. In a similar fashion to his utilization of scale, Penck's spontaneous brushwork not only draws the viewer's attention to the panoramic vision before them but increases the impact of the colour and form which make up the composition. Penck's brush takes on a sense of graphic effect, refuting any sort of spatial illusionism. Penck's deliberate restriction of the colour palette to primary colours, black and white allows these formal elements to take on a similar directness in a fashion that recalls Expressionism to the semantic potential of the signs and symbols.

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