This exhibition puts a portfolio of works on display which have never been shown before. It has been produced and assembled over a timespan of thirty seven years in different countries, even continents, and a great variety of locations and situations, ranging from homelessness to strutting the marble floors of once revered institutions called “Akademie der Bildenden Künste”, in short Kunstakademie. Considering the travails and perils of both portfolio and artist, we must say that, despite its fragile materials, it is supremely preserved. Meaning they have been, like salt and pepper, inseparable. So why this separation now..?
Lukas Duwenhögger considers Walter Abish’s How German Is It to be the best literary portraiture of post WWII Germany. The influences that this portfolio contains begin then: in a deeply polarized and truculent society, constipated with repression, lying and hoarding. So what was on those walls? The frolicsome Picasso, the poetic Klee, the modest Morandi, locked in suburbia. And a couple of years later: Gerhard Richter and black leather, Allen Jones and black leather, Andy Warhol and black leather.
But where did you belong? Did you admire someone or something to the point of self-effacement, pledge yourself unequivocally to a cause, whether guerilla warfare, or becoming a famous artist? And if artists, were you helping to decorate the bedrooms of weapons’ producers? And if your willingness and devotion was rejected because they didn’t like how you looked or spoke or moved, can you imagine the shame? But at your aunt’s fashion house, there was probably a Fragonard, a Carl Spitzweg or an Adolf Menzel; and if you happened to like them more you were in hell’s kitchen; not to mention your vitrine decorations. Antagonisms. Anachronisms. Influences: Lukas Duwenhögger’s first encounter with Hannah Höch in 1971, at the first comprehensive survey of her photomontages and collages in the Akademie der Künste, is obvious in The Avenger and in The Forbidden Fruit, not to mention his use of a found Icarus, his heart becoming the eye of an owl, an eye of control of the labour in the production of fortress-cakes. What about your children’s books? Does the magic ever leave you? If you happen to be familiar with the work of Leo Lionni or Leonore Gaul, amongst many others, you could easily see lingering traces of their magnificent achievements in Duwenhögger’s work. A boy-passenger on his way to school, at sunrise, driving by billboards designed by Pavel Michael Engelman for Roth- Händle cigarettes or by Gerd Grimm for Reval or by René Gruau for Eau Sauvage.
And books, above all the ones of Saul Steinberg.. And record covers, for the Modern Jazz Quartet. And, and, and… Which brings us to the question of referentiality.
A wider, if not all inclusive frame of legitimate references is surely one of the great legacies of postmodernism but it all too often tends to obscure that dogmatic strictures, if not censorships altogether, in not-so-long-ago-times, far from causing only uniform misery could have had the unintended result of generating specific formal vocabularies which under less restricted circumstances would not have developed. When influences become references and references become a system of exploitation. The considerable merits of a limited access to information disappear from view. That does not mean that the hanging of homosexuals or the stoning of women are inspiring.
Or the question of scale: a mural can be a celebration of the common man’s victory in her fight for justice; a large scale canvas, a decoration for a corporation lounge.
Bruce la Bruce called his autobiography The Reluctant Pornographer. In Lukas Duwenhögger’s case The Reluctant Autodidact would come pretty close. Devotion to the master and eviction from the master-class.
The question of finish.
The question of finish goes with officialdom, power, respectability, the Res Publica. The Nazi takeover turning a sorrow of completion into polish and gloss. The Nazis – laughable masters of finish. The joke of the democratic unfinish. The surge of the sketch. The smell of the hand. And what is the hand? It’s the hand of the Master. The democratic ideal of the unfinished, the unpolished, the tentative, the open, the inclusive and ultimately the private. What if this turns into factions of cold and warm? The Ingres-Delacroix debate? Brothers called warm but thought of as cold? Another turn of the screw? A liberation becoming domination once again?
The oil paintings of Lukas Duwenhögger are built on an idea of monumentality, which his works shown here never have intended. If you talk about representation, you are in the field of politics and stop to manoeuvre the movements of your scissors with the abandon which are on display in these works. These works were not meant to enter the public domain, ever. But now they do. It’s up to your judgement how well they do. The question of realism or do you call it representation; you may call it mimicry as well. Mimicry means imitation. You mimic a woman or a respectable family father. Passing for white, class-passing. It also means invisibility, but one is always tracked down. That is called the glass closet. So better take out the winds of other people’s sails. A collage befits the state of homelessness better than an oil painting. The heaviness of an oil painting means officialdom and Guerilla Girls. This show is a novelty because Lukas Duwenhögger shows us his vagabond, his gypsy side for the first time and we are glad that we are given the chance.