A. R. PENCK (b. 1939)
A. R. PENCK (b. 1939)
A. R. PENCK (b. 1939)
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A. R. PENCK (b. 1939)
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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
A. R. PENCK (b. 1939)

Frauen K.

A. R. PENCK (b. 1939)
Frauen K.
dispersion on canvas
98 1⁄2 x 157 1⁄2 in. (250.2 x 400 cm.)
Executed in 1981.
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Kunsthalle Bern, a.Y. (a.r. penck) T, August-September 1981, n.p. (illustrated).
Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle; Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Christian-Albrechts-Universität; Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, A.R. Penck Retrospektive, June 2007-May 2008, pp. 142-143, no. 83 (illustrated, titled Frau K).

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Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Specialist

Lot Essay

Growing up in the wake of the World War II and developing his skill as an artist amidst political stratification in Germany, A. R. Penck’s career has been defined by destruction and the redemptive promise of art. Penck maintained his artistic practice within two worlds, torn between the rise of Soviet Communism and Western Capitalism, his identity bifurcated at its very core. Though many associate the aesthetics of Penck with that of Keith Haring or Jean-Michel Basquiat, he was independent in developing his own visual language. He and Basquiat did, however, become close friends and professed great respect for their shared desire to establish a universal artistic syntax that would transcend the tumults and segregations of their time. Penck’s Frauen K. is radical, it is a defamation of and defiance to the rise of communism in then-severed Germany.

Frauen K. is a juxtaposition of two seemingly disparate scenes, perhaps an allusion to the political divisions Penck was experiencing in Germany. This grand canvas is divided by a jagged edge that cuts through its center, the deep blue on the left converging with the array of primaries on the right. The larger of the scenes, located on the left, appears to be set in a cave of steely blue stone. The walls of this enclosure are scribbled with gestural simple line figures and naïve scrawls, certainly linking Penck’s language to Keith Haring’s oeuvre. The nude woman standing before this wall presents herself with a confidence, perhaps as a reconnaissance effort against the GDR censorship Penck endured. Her form, surely more detailed as compared to the simple line figures, is emotive and gestural, with a primal quality akin to graffiti art.

Contrastingly, the women lounging on the right, set in a domestic environment, rests with her arms raised behind her head and her legs splayed, evoking the striking composure of Matisse’s Nu bleu II. Both Penck’s and Matisse’s women rest confidently with an apparent comfort, though Penck’s decision to display his nude with such vulnerability contributes to her particularly empowered nature. Further, as a contrast to Matisse’s solitary nude, Penck’s is complicated by the presence of the male figure—whose eyes the audience cannot see—gazing upon her. In retaliation, he boldly commands space despite the anonymity of this specter.

Penck was born as Ralph Winkler, a name he attributed to his earliest body of work, much of which was either confiscated by German Democratic Republic censors or smuggled out of East Germany under the guise of different names. Upon being forcefully expelled from his home, Winkler sought refuge in West Germany, where he adopted the name A. R. Penck. Upon arrival to West Germany, Penck was instantly enamored with the raw emotion of Neo-Expressionism, taking inspiration in founding artists of the movement including Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer.

Art Brut’s emotional vulnerability and the accessibility of outsider art are cornerstones of Penck’s oeuvre, notably defined by his creation of ‘Standart,’ a combination of the words ‘standard’ and ‘art.’ ‘Standart’ is an imaginary artistic language aimed to democratize and universalize the experience of engaging in artistic critique, its lexicon consisting of pictograph-esque motifs, neo-primitive symbols, simple line figures and childlike musings. Each visual cue, Penck said, was treated like a ‘building block,’ to be put in conversation with other icons, similar to constructing a sentence from a selection of independent words. Complex sociopolitical and economic uncertainties are made comprehendible by this accessible visual language, empowering the canvas as a site of contemplation and imagination. From this reduced language comes a radical body of work that inspires pathways out of the worlds’ traumas. Frauen K. is abundant with this simplified vocabulary, even its palette heavily dominated by primary colors. The figures—sketched and human alike—are identifiably sourced from ancient hieroglyphics, cave art, and African tribal art.

Frauen K.’s visual cues offer readability to all audiences. It is also explosive, contradicting the principles of censorship, the two nude women’s realities energetically cutting into one another yet both existing on the canvas in opposition to their concealment. Frauen K. is a testament to Penck’s democratizing artistic lexicon, his enduring sociopolitical direction, and the redemptive promise of art.

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