Das Gericht (The Court)

Das Gericht (The Court)
signed and titled ‘Klapheck “das Gericht”’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas laid down on panel
13 7⁄8 x 27in. (35.3 x 68.5cm.)
Executed in the early 1960s
Galleria Schwarz, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner before 1975.
A. Giulivi and R. Trani, Arturo Schwarz, La Galleria 1954-1975, Milan 1995 (installation view of Galleria Schwarz illustrated, p. 128).
Milan, Galleria Schwarz, Konrad Klapheck, 1963.

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Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection for over four decades, Konrad Klapheck’s Das Gericht (The Court) is an ode to the mechanised glory that is the typewriter. Bands of ochre and purple allude to the body of the machine whose silver keys—absent their alphabetical markings—stand sentinel straight in a pristine grid, spotlit like jurors in a courtroom. Painted in the early 1960s, Das Gericht is technical and slick, yet its title evokes the drama of the human realm. Indeed, despite the frank detachment of Klapheck’s pictorial style, the painting is imbued with an emotional lyricism that belies its taciturn appearance. Ostensibly a still life, a genre freighted with history and associations, Das Gericht is enigmatic and anthropomorphic. In 1963, it was included in an important early solo show at Galleria Schwarz, Milan.

In 1955, while studying at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Klapheck acquired an outdated typewriter model, which he then proceeded to make the subject of a picture. This was the first of the artist’s now instantly recognisable ‘machine’ paintings. Klapheck had long been fascinated by machines, drawn to their ‘physical, corporeal’ qualities and the possibilities they present. Initially, he chose to concentrate this interest on the typewriter, an object that he understands to be wholly masculine (K. Klapheck quoted in ‘A Conversation with Konrad Klapheck’, Index, Harvard Art Museums, 10 April 2018). Choosing to painstakingly reproduce the typewriter in paint both underscores and contradicts the machine’s exact aim, which was to eliminate and make efficient the human hand. ‘The typewriter,’ notes Robert Benayoun, ‘turns handwriting flourish into a brutal act’ (R. Benayoun, ‘The Watchmaker of Freedom’, in Konrad Klapheck: Mostra Personale, exh. cat. Galleria Schwarz, Milan 1963, n.p.). That the typewriter was used by journalists, novelists and politicians alike—and, indeed, court stenographers—made it that much more appealing to Klapheck. Over the course of his career, he created more than forty images on this theme, each focusing on a different model of typewriter for its ‘different sort of viewpoint’ (K. Klapheck quoted in ibid.).

Far from narrowing his sights to this one object, Klapheck turned his attention to all sorts of utilitarian devices and tools across his career, rendering irons, taps, hoses, telephones and sewing machines in a graphically deadpan style. Removed from their contexts, these objects are transformed into strange beings that owe a visual debt to European Modernism, particularly German Neue Sachlichkeit painters, the subtle eroticism of Marcel Duchamp’s and René Magritte’s compositions, and the otherworldly aura of Metaphysical canvases. Far from static, Klapheck’s objects seem completely alive, by turns a character in a story, a governmental worker, a seductress. Stripped of pomp and frill, Das Gericht possesses an upright formality, a forceful, attentive presence that yearns to be taken seriously. As Klapheck has said, within each machine ‘was an image of perfection’ (K. Klapheck quoted in D. Roelstraete, ‘L’Homme Machine: The Art of Konrad Klapheck’, Artforum, March 2012).

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