This painting has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Neo Rauch at David Zwirner, New York, November - December 2011
This painting emanates entirely from the many experiences of Mahler's Eighth Symphony. It could be regarded as a commissioned work, albeit self-commissioned. Maestro Riccardo Chailly requested the use of an aspect of an existing work for the cover of his re-interpretation of this work, but I found that a work created solely for this purpose was more suitable.
With pleasure, I accepted Chailly's invitation to attend a rehearsal of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the uplifting power of the work began to formulate the basic premise of the painting.
Over weeks the music of Mahler filled my studio and in this
atmosphere I created the work "Chor." In the same way that the music brought forth a painting in me, may the work once again be an instrument of good, and help to relieve suffering.
- NEO RAUCH, AUGUST 9, 2011
Neo Rauch's commitment to the medium of painting pervades his unique largescale canvases that meld figurative realism with abstraction. In many of his compositions, human figures engaged in manual labor or indeterminable tasks work against backdrops of mundane architecture, industrial settings, or bizarre and often barren landscapes. These figures, though squarely centered in his paintings, often have the appearance of being part of still lifes devoid of a human presence. Born in 1960 in Leipzig, then East Germany, Rauch is part of a generation of artists who came of age in a war-torn, divided country. While his older East German peers, including Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter, emigrated to the West during the Cold War, Rauch spent his youth in the Eastern Bloc and received his arts education at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. The impermeable border splitting Germany famously tempered the advance of Western avant-garde movements in the East, where figurative painting maintained its predominance. Change was not immediate following the collapse of the communist regime, and many artists actually traveled to Leipzig from the West to learn traditional painting skills. Not until the end of the 1990s did a shift become apparent, and Rauch, then in his late twenties, would come to spearhead a break with the existing dogma.
Rauch distinguished himself early on with his highly symbolic and deeply personal narratives, and his work has been described as creating a bridge between the old and the new. While his works typically appear to be carefully constructed and balanced, the artist does not rely on existing imagery for his subjects and rarely sketches out his compositions before starting work on a new canvas. The atmosphere of his paintings is suffused with a sense of the uncanny, and, as indicated by the title of his major exhibition para at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2007, a "parallel" reality seems to pervade his oeuvre. "Para" literally means "beyond," and accordingly, although his compositions almost seem to appeal to the viewer to be decoded, the key to their understanding lies just beyond our reach.
In Chor, the German word for "choir," the artist depicts five figures dressed in matching clothing. Gathered within a forest setting, they each hold a blue book before themselves, as if reading or singing aloud. As is often the case with Rauch's work, the scale is non-perspectival, and a male character at the bottom left appears much smaller than the rest of the group. His presence abruptly interrupts the painting's illusory space and seems instead to be a collaged element, an insert, denoting a different time zone or reality. This paranormal distortion infuses the scene with surrealist abstraction, while a bright light illuminating the purple sky adds religious connotations. The smaller figure appears startled and has put down his songbook, which also hints at an ongoing drama despite the otherwise peaceful scene.
Chor will be used as the cover of a forthcoming CD featuring internationally renowned conductor Riccardo Chailly's epic rendition of Gustav Mahler's Eighth Symphony with the Gewandhaus Orchestra at the Mahler Festival in Leipzig in May 2011.