Günther Förg has remained a prominent figure in the European art community since exhibiting with Rüdiger Schöttle and Max Hetzler Gallery in the early 1980s. Förg’s stature in America grew later in the decade as curators like Susanne Ghez of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago and galleries like Luhring Augustine in New York promoted his works to a new audience. Förg and his early contemporaries in Cologne, Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen and Georg Herold, have since become central to 20th century art history.
Günther Förg’s oeuvre remains difficult to unpack: massive paintings with jarring color combinations, photographs of architecture from oblique angles, curiously soft portraits, and walls painted in a slightly muted but still potent yellow, blue, or red. This dispersion of style is likely a way for Förg to engage the forms of Modernism without fully embracing their ideologies. In his paintings, it’s entirely reasonable to react to the force of his composition and color palette as one might a Barnett Newman or Ellsworth Kelly, but it’s important to note that they are the product of a relatively programmatic process. Elegant streaks of foreign color in a two-toned painting, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, are likely the result of the artist’s decision not to wash brushes between paintings. The viewer remains conflicted between a relatively simple but forceful aesthetic experience and a formal methodology that undermines pure expressionism. The photographs proffer a similarly dual experience, but of architecture. Förg may cull the viewer into ovoid stairwells or an ambient-light filled Barcelona House, but he will also lead the viewer to the austere façade of a fascist administrative building. The sublime, mechanical and political are tenuously suspended in relatively straightforward objects.
Thomas and Linda Heagy were important supporters of the Renaissance Society, an institution highly regarded for introducing important European artists to an American audience. In 1988, the Renaissance Society presented Günther Förg’s first solo museum presentation in the country. The exhibition centered on his Barcelona Pavilion photographs, one of which was acquired by the Heagy’s and is featured here. These monumental photographs obscure the austerity of Mies van der Rohe’s architectural masterpiece by engaging corners, furniture and interior walls with a vague intimacy that flirts with nostalgia.
Günther Förg, 1988 | Installation view The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago | Photo by Tom Van Eynde
The Heagy’s commitment to Förg’s career is reflected in the diversity of their collection. Two large untitled paintings highlight our auction, one a deep brushy green ground interrupted by an orange band, the other a flittering blue cropped by a red bar. A large earthy brown acrylic work on paper haunts the group with washy runs and a fingered signature and date. More modest in scale, but compelling in their continuation of a theme important to the artist, the lithographs literally toy with gesture and mechanical reproduction.
It is no easy accomplishment to create a beautiful body of work that retains such an interpretive suspense, particularly without falling into vapid obscurantism. It is because of supporters like Thomas and Linda Heagy that such compelling careers are possible.