Penck: beautiful and poignant

The University Library has recently acquired the catalogue published on the occasion of the exhibition A.R. Penck, Rites de passage (S950.a.201.5701) which was held at the Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence near Nice from March 18 to June 18, 2017. Penck was one of the greatest German artists of the late 20th century along with Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Sigmar Polke and Jörg Immendorff. The focus of the exhibition was on the challenges of his painting and sculpture through different periods, each chosen to give a better understanding of the richness of his aesthetic, existential, philosophical and literary worlds. The exhibition presented around one hundred paintings, sculptures, large sets of drawings, prints and artists’ books.

The substantial, superbly printed catalogue reproduces paintings and drawings from the sketchbooks of A.R. Penck interspersing them with photographs of his sculptures by Andrea Stappert. In addition to the visual material, it contains a number of interviews with the artist and contributions by art historians. Different types of paper have been used to delineate the different sections and typefaces have been carefully chosen for the particular types of text. The French studio SpMillot, Paris designed the book, the French firm Art & Caractère, Lavaur printed and produced it and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König published it. The effort lavished on designing and producing the catalogue was recognized by the Stiftung Buchkunst, which awarded its annual prize to it. The Stiftung Buchkunst selected the catalogue for the prize from 25 books chosen as the best designed books in 2017. While the images displayed here (click on each one to see larger version) will hopefully give an idea of the beauty of the book, it is only when holding the volume in your own hands that you can fully appreciate the design.

The catalogue is not just beautiful but also poignant as A.R. Penck died on 2 May 2017, aged 77, while the exhibition in Saint-Paul de Vence was still running. The catalogue is therefore a fitting tribute to the late artist.

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Penck was born in Dresden, East Germany and became one of the most important dissident artists in East Germany, moving to the West in 1980. He invented a colourful pictorial language expressing the rhythm of a constant dialogue between primitivism and “art brut”, and between painting and graffitism of which he is one of the leading proponents along with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His work flourished during the 1980s, subsequently fell out of favour after his heyday but in recent years gained renewed relevance. In 2007 his work was the subject of a retrospective at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt am Main. The Library also holds the catalogue of this (S950.a.200.3234). I hope that both catalogues will contribute to an assessment of Penck’s oeuvre and his standing within the canon of modern art.

Christian Staufenbiel

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