Neo Rauch (b. 1960)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Neo Rauch (b. 1960)

Nerv

Details
Neo Rauch (b. 1960)
Nerv
signed, titled and dated 'NERV RAUCH 01' (lower right)
oil on paper
97 5/8 x 78in. (248 x 198cm.)
Executed in 2001
Provenance
Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin.
Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001.
Literature
A. M. Charris, ‘Neo Rauch: en los Limites de la Realidad’, in Arte y Parte, no. 58, August–September 2005 (illustrated in colour, p. 14).
H.W. Holzwarth (ed.), Neo Rauch, Cologne 2012, p. 459 (illustrated in colour, p. 149).
Exhibited
Venice, 49th Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte, Giardini di Castello, Plateau of Humankind, 2001, p. 404 (illustrated in colour, p. 133).
Maastricht, Bonnefantenmuseum, Neo Rauch / The Vincent 2002 (exhibition for the Vincent van Gogh Bi-annual Award for Contemporary Art in Europe), 2002, p. 136 (illustrated in colour, p. 33).
Burgdorf, Museum Franz Gertsch, Back to the Figure: Contemporary Painting, 2006-2007. This exhibition later travelled to Rotterdam, Kunsthalle Rotterdam (illustrated in colour, p. 157).
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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Lot Essay

‘I refrain both from any hierarchization and from a conscious evaluation of my pictorial inventory. This means that elements like Balthus, Vermeer, Tintin, Donald Judd, Donald Duck, agitprop, and cheap advertising garbage can flow together in a furrow of my childhood landscape and generate an intermingled conglomerate of surprising plausibility’ —N. RAUCH


Exhibited at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001, Nerv (Nerve) (2001) is an astounding dreamscape painted by Neo Rauch. A man and a woman, outfitted in distinctly retro East German workers’ uniforms, seem to be on a cigarette break – they have each removed one yellow glove to smoke, and are standing by a smouldering hourglass-shaped red obelisk. Disneyesque cartoon eyes stare from the wall behind. Opposite them, another man, also wearing yellow gloves but distinguished by his charcoal-grey face and bearskin hat, points to a blank space at the centre of the picture. Above these figures hovers what looks like a vast, furred oven glove, zipped open to reveal a plaid interior and spilling forth a milky substance. Another such form frisbees through the air behind. A third has landed in the foreground, and opened like a clamshell to reveal a tiny, gleeful genie-like character, luminous in red and white: a lightning bolt shoots from his gaseous body into the sky above, and he wears a toadstool on his head. He seems to be directed by the figure in the bearskin hat, who holds the capsule open and grips him by the hand. Behind this extraordinary scene, ribbed purple pylons with red antennae recede into a painterly pale blue sky. In front, large, quivering letters spell out ‘NERV.’ The crackling energy and graphic assurance of this work recall the qualities of a film poster or sci-fi comic, but any frame-by-frame narrative is bewilderingly absent. Near the heads of the man and woman float two small speech bubbles, as if to promise a caption or comment – but they are empty of words. As is typical of Rauch’s work, Nerv throbs with allusion and meaning but remains gleamingly impenetrable, operating like a lucid dream. It is as if we have stumbled into the artist’s subconscious, and are made witness to the electric currents of inspiration, memory and imagination that churn through his psyche. Rauch paints with inimitable assurance, and likens his role to that of a medium, filtering these subliminal impulses into the oneiric arrangements of his work. The result is mesmerising, psychedelic and unlike the vision of any other painter alive.

‘Inexplicable zones are necessary,’ says Rauch, ‘because otherwise the image will dry out, because it will become completely disinfected. I have to keep on deciding at which point in the process of making a painting I have to make that cut and put in fields of interference. That always happens when the feeling arises that the spelled-out parts have taken the upper hand’ (N. Rauch, quoted in H. Liebs, ‘Nothing Embarrasses me Now,’ Süddeutsche Zeitung, 13 September 2006, p. 18). His compositions thrive on cross-contamination, intrusion and mystery – to leave an image decodable would be to deprive it of its magic. The blank and ruptured areas of the picture in Nerv underscore this idea, not to mention its surreal configuration of strange characters and otherworldly objects. The puckish toadstool-hatted spirit lends the scene a knowingly hallucinogenic edge, and perhaps makes a nod to the riddles and punning logic of the caterpillar of Alice in Wonderland. Just like Alice, it seems, we have entered a world that obeys its own internal rules: a carnivalesque universe of warped colour schemes, shifting scales and peculiar happenings. The people in Rauch’s pictures give nothing away. Their faces are impassive, at most slightly bemused, and they are typically engaged in some form of industrious if oblique labour. As obscure as the works may be in their totality, however, there is a clear biographical genesis for many of their recurring motifs. The power plant or factory-like scenery of Nerv, for example, bears echoes of Rauch’s youth in the East German DDR, and has the quality of a warped Socialist Realist propaganda poster as much as a movie or stage set. As Rauch explains, ‘I refrain both from any hierarchization and from a conscious evaluation of my pictorial inventory. This means that elements like Balthus, Vermeer, Tintin, Donald Judd, Donald Duck, agitprop, and cheap advertising garbage can flow together in a furrow of my childhood landscape and generate an intermingled conglomerate of surprising plausibility’ (N. Rauch, quoted in H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Neo Rauch, Cologne 2012, p. 148).

We might expect the results of Rauch’s oracular approach to painting to be chaotic, but they are marshalled by a supreme command of pictorial structure. On his first trip to Italy in 1990, Rauch studied the frescoes of Giotto and Piero della Francesca. These painters’ early mastery of perspective, geometric form and the organisation of figures in space can be keenly felt in Nerv. Indeed, the purely visual considerations of composition seem to dictate the deployment of Rauch’s ‘pictorial inventory,’ superseding the usual narrative concerns of figurative painting. Another anchoring motif for Rauch is that of etymology: the semiotic (dis)connection between words and things sometimes serves to create an overall mood. ‘Coming up with the title is often an arduous process,’ he says, ‘because my interest in the etymological roots of even the most banal expression leads me to sediments of meaning that occasionally send unexpected impetus to painterly intentions. Sometimes, however, a word is capable of triggering a picture! It can happen that a word develops an uncanny atmospheric vortex in the direction of a self-creating picture; I only have to help things fall into place. Such moments are precious and they bind me even closer to my mother tongue because this is the only place where these kinds of experiences are possible’ (N. Rauch, quoted in Neo Rauch: Neue Rollen. Paintings 1993-2006, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 2006, p. 70). Nerv, with its imagery of conduction, electrical energy, and varied tactile surfaces – from the lush fur and white liquid of the mysterious capsule to the hard, gleaming antennae of the towers – certainly creates a heightened sensory atmosphere, appropriate to a vivid dream stemming from a meditation on the word ‘nerve’ and its meanings. Ultimately, however, such ideas must lie in the realm of speculation, and herein lies the joy of Rauch’s work. Nerv thrills with the power of allegory or metaphor, but remains utterly, captivatingly enigmatic.

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