Murder in the Living Room
After Peter Roehr, now another almost forgotten sixties artist can be rediscovered in Frankfurt. Here, the Schirn Kunsthalle shows Uwe Lausen - a painter who combines radical social criticism with bold formal experimentation. The Deutsche Bank Collection owns many of his works and loaned some for the exhibition. Achim Drucks on Lausen's provocative work.
||A picture of complete alienation: a man with a shaved head wearing a suit is sitting in an armchair, his right arm extended in a Hitler salute. He is looking frontally at the viewer, but his eyes are concealed by something resembling protective goggles. In the background, a young man in jeans and a striped sweater enters the scene, smiling awkwardly - a troublemaker. Uwe Lausen's drawing from 1967 is entitled Ich bin's nur, Euer Sohn (It's Only Me, Your Son). The work from the Deutsche Bank Collection incorporates central themes from the oeuvre of the artist (who was born in 1941): the disturbed relationship between the generations in 1960s West Germany; the repressed past, which continually surfaces nevertheless; the middle-class living room as a scene of conflict, rape and murder.
Like scarcely another artist of his time, Uwe Lausen reacted simultaneously to the political and social situation of the land of the economic miracle and to international art trends. The current show at the Schirn in Frankfurt illustrates how he audaciously picks up on artists such as Bacon, Hundertwasser and Richter, makes use of media pictures and the garish colors of psychedelic posters, and has cool Op art and Pop art collide with gestural areas. Lausen sampled different styles and motifs long before painters such as Martin Kippenberger and Bernhard Martin did. While his idiosyncratic work is closely connected with the period in which it arose, it is also very contemporary.
An example is Besuch bei Blaubart (Visiting Bluebeard, 1966), an enigmatic portrayal of sex, power and oppression. The eponymous hero is a monumental figure casually enthroned on a gallery, his eyes also concealed behind dark glasses. This Bluebeard is not the one from the fairytale, but recalls an American B movie gangster. Behind him a soldier is keeping a packed-together group of naked people in check with an MG. Above him is a triptych on which a man's head is mutating into a phallus. Besuch bei Blaubart was on view in an exhibition at the CFA gallery in Berlin, a show which juxtaposed works by Lausen with Daniel Richter paintings. The comparison with Richter's haunting, apocalyptic visions demonstrates the unbroken power of Lausen's later works - if one can speak of 'later works' in a career spanning only nine years.
The son of a Stuttgart-based Social Democrat politician, Lausen was originally supposed to study law and philosophy in Tübingen. But even back when he was in school, it was apparent that he had no desire to bow to conventions and expectations. In an exercise book he wrote: "Alienation between father and son. Papa: too narrow-minded, conservative, highly pedantic. Son: wants to broaden his horizons. Modern. Permissive." Lausen disappeared from his high school graduation party without a trace, only to return to Stuttgart two months later - from Morocco. He brought a shoebox full of hashish home with him, a substance that in 1960s Baden-Württemberg was probably only available to a very exclusive circle of people. From then on, drugs would be his constant companion. Later, Lausen took LSD and mescaline to try to get a grip on his fears and depressions: "auto-psychotherapy through psychogenic drugs," as he put it in 1965.
In contact with current art, he moved to Munich in 1960, where he met the painters of the SPUR group, who with their paintings, leaflets and manifestos railed against the restorative spirit of the Adenauer era. An autodidact, Lausen initially oriented himself to their expressive, Informel-influenced style of painting. He published a text that was considered to be blasphemous and pornographic in the group's magazine for which the artist, then 21, was put in detention for three months. Via SPUR he came into contact with avant-garde left-wing European intellectuals - the Situationist International around the theoretician Guy Debord and the painter Asger Jorn. Deriving great pleasure from provocation, in its pamphlets the S.I. derided the political and cultural establishment, rejecting eastern socialism just as vehemently as western capitalism.
One of the Situationists' most important strategies was détournement, the "reuse of preexisting aesthetic elements". For Lausen, such elements initially included Hundertwasser's biomorphous ornaments and spiral shapes, Bacon's deformed bodies, and the cold, planar paintings of the British artist Allen Jones. They were supplemented later by Hard Edge, advertising graphics, media images and pop culture influences. Lausen's artistic development exploded; he absorbed everything imaginable and incorporated it into his work. A work he did in 1965 shows Ringo Starr masturbating. The face and body of the Beatles' drummer dissolve, and on the stylish leather sofa next to him there is an indefinable lump of meat. The painting, executed in dreary violet and brown shades and blurred, looks like a parody of Bacon: instead of existential torment, Ringo's body twitches with sexual excitement. A year later, Lausen painted Sonny and Cher. In a light-flooded room, the American pop duo lounges on a bright orange couch. The reduced look and the highly contrasting colors recall comics and record covers. Geometer (1965) looks like the connecting link between these two paintings, which could have been done by different artists. Gestural and graphic passages collide head-on.
In addition, Geometer served as the background for a photo by Lausen's wife, the photographer Heide Stolz. She had her husband pose in front of the painting, on which in turn two headless men in suits are standing in front of Bacon-style nudes. Thus, the motif of the painting is transported into real space. Wearing an elegant jacket and dark horn-rimmed glasses, and unshaven, Lausen looks like a cool big city hipster. In the mid 1960s he commuted back and forth between Munich, where hippies, bohemians, and artists amused themselves together in the Schwabing district, and the Upper Bavarian village of Aschhofen, where he lived with Heide Stolz and their two daughters in a converted barn, although he couldn't stand "all the mooing". Further photos were taken in a gravel pit in which Lausen interacted with friends in front of the camera. These pictures anticipated the laconic, subdued aesthetics of violence found in films such as Rudolf Thome's Rote Sonne (Red Sun) (1969) and Roland Klick's Deadlock (1970).
Violence was in the air at the time. The Schwabing riots in the summer of 1962, when the arrest of a group of musicians led to days-long street battles between thousands of young people and police, marked the beginning of conflicts that would become increasingly severe in the course of the decade. The clashes between the rebellious youth and the German state culminated in the terror perpetrated by the RAF. Meanwhile, Auschwitz trials drew attention to the crimes of the young people's fathers' generation. And on the now omnipresent TVs there were reports about the Vietnam War and the heinous crimes committed by Latin American dictators. Starting in the mid 1960s, Lausen reflected this violence in this works: paramilitaries push through broken-down doors into middle-class living rooms; shot people lie bleeding in armchairs; a swastika is mixed into the pattern of a carpet. The artist wrote Kill for fun on buttons, which he passed out in 1968 on the occasion of an exhibition. Lausen's "soldier paintings" are among his most powerful works. They wed thematic and formal radicalism, unusual perspectives, and a tension between caricature-like figures and indefinable, reduced pictorial spaces.
In the meantime, Lausen had become relatively established. The press celebrated him as a young star, he exhibited regularly, museums acquired his works. But after an exceedingly productive phase, he stopped painting altogether in 1969. "when I paint my depression turns into aggression," he wrote a short time previously. "the aggression in painting seemed to relieve me; but the pressure became ever greater. in the end, painting became meaningless to me. (…) my mis-relationship with my environment, the fact that my thoughts and feelings were missing the mark, could only be solved by change." But stints as a writer and musician did not help stabilize his psyche. In Lausen's final, restless months he had bouts of paranoia and took heroin. Sought by the police for drug-related crimes, the lost son fled to his parents' house in September 1970. There, he slit his wrists on an LSD trip. But he had announced his death: On his drawing "Das endlose Streben" (Endless Striving, 1967) Uwe Lausen noted: "Die in a decent way. Freshly made bed, 18 degrees room temperature. Rolling Stones in the background. (…) In addition, a last meal consisting of butter beans, chateau-style potatoes, meat. In the awareness that every person is his own idiot. Controlled passion. Tearless, with no manifestations of hate, aggression, trance, love. Endless dying."
UWE LAUSEN - ENDE SCHÖN ALLES SCHÖN
Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt
March 4 - June 13, 2010
Museum Villa Stuck, München
June, 25 - October 3, 2010
Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg
October 22, 2010 - January 23, 2011