The Law of the Series
A Dual Exhibition Celebrates Peter Roehr
||He’s considered to be one of the more exciting rediscoveries of recent years — Peter Roehr, Germany’s pioneer in pop, minimal, and conceptual art. After creating a body of work that was incredibly coherent and austere, the Frankfurt-born artist died of cancer at the young age of 23. Now, the MMK and the Städel, two of the most important museums of his native city, are presenting his work in a first major exhibition. Ever since Städel director Max Hollein has increasingly turned his attention to contemporary art, a degree of tension has prevailed between the two institutions. But the new director of the MMK, Susanne Gaensheimer, has traded cooperation for competition. One of the results is this excellent dual show. Among the lenders to Peter Roehr—Works from Frankfurt Collections is the Deutsche Bank Collection, which owns many of the artist’s works.
"I think that every thing harbors discernible characteristics that we do not, however, perceive," said Roehr in 1965. "If we look at something several times next to something or among things or over time, we start to notice these characteristics." Roehr worked with advertising imagery, stickers, buttons, and words without ever manipulating his material or ever putting his own person into the foreground. Parallel to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Roehr created a body of work that blended the mass media images of pop art, the austerity of minimal art, and the theoretical radicalness of conceptual art. Like his Frankfurt artist friends Thomas Bayrle and Charlotte Posenenske, he focused on series and sequence. Roehr was also influenced by film, music, and popular culture. In 1968, together with his friend, the future gallery dealer Paul Maenz, he opened the store Pudding Explosion in Frankfurt city center, offering hippie accessories for sale such as hash pipes, Twiggy posters, Mao bibles, and buttons with sayings like "Whoever dies, saves."
For an exhibition poster, Roehr, who had trained as a maker of signs and neon advertisements, had girls pose in an Op Art look in front of his Black Panels, his own ironic homage to the Black Square that makes Malevich’s icon even more radical. Roehr’s answer to the monochromatic painting consists of ten wall works, square tin boxes each of which contains 35 black cardboard panels. This major work is now on public view for the first time again in Frankfurt. Alongside it are typographic works and additional montages with objects. At the MMK, the focus is on images deriving from advertising brochures and on his works on film based on movies and commercials: a woman’s head moves back and forth, her hair is being combed, a car is driving through a tunnel. When he became aware of his impending death, Roehr worked even more frenetically, eventually leaving behind more than 600 works of art. "I don’t know if what I do is art. On the other hand, I have no idea what else it could be," he explained. At any rate, a visit to the dual exhibition makes it quite clear that this is art—and of a very high quality indeed.
Peter Roehr—Works from Frankfurt Collections
November 28, 2009 through March 7, 2010
MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst / Städel Museum
Frankfurt am Main