The exhibition will present new paintings by Helmut Federle along with a selection of never-shown, mainly early drawings. At the center of his work stands the question of the relationship of abstract form and the artist’s creative self-assertion. Federle represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale in 1997. He was honored with the Prix Aurélie Nemours 2008. The upcoming museum group show: Rudolf Steiner and Contemporary Art, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg (13.05. –03.10.2010) and Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (05.02. – 22.05.2011). A catalogue will be published on the occasion of the exhibition in Vienna.
The new paintings take up a motif that has occurred repeatedly in his work since the late 1970s but never found expression in its own cycle. These paintings are lucid, soft nocturnes that recall the light of Romantic painting. This light, which penetrates through the dark, thinly applied paint, which in several paintings has even been washed off several times, is common to all of the works in this group. The paintings exert a strange undertow on the viewers – strange because it also remains unclear whether the light is streaming out toward one or, conversely, the painting opens up a passageway into brightness for the eye. Are we in front of the painting or in the painting?
The motif of the unlocalized, permanent light is connected to themes of spirituality, which have been central to abstract painting since its beginnings. Several of these tunnel paintings in earth tones or in shades of gray and black cause the viewer’s gaze to plunge into a bottomless pit. Compositionally, the new paintings occupy a special place in Federle’s oeuvre, because with them the artist left behind any orientation around a pictorial structure formed of horizontals and verticals. A visual field made dynamic by means of diagonal movements is first found in his paintings in the works from the cycle Edelweiss (Ausführung) (Edelweiss [Execution]), though in his drawings it is found very early on. Remarkably, spiral forms and diagonals are found repeatedly in the drawings, though they are rare in the paintings.
Helmut Federle never viewed formal innovation as a central task of art and even disputed that it existed at all in art. In his view, the forms of abstraction are not tied to twentieth-century art but were, as the fabrics, ceramics and works of art in his collection also demonstrate, present even prior to modernism and outside of Western art. The historical horizon against which Federle perceives artistic form is thus much broader than the historical resonance chamber that is struck by Timothy J. Clark’s description of modernity as our antiquity. In Federle’s most recent works, Cubism, Futurism, anthroposophy, and especially his intense engagement with the culture of Japan over many years clearly resonate, and yet it would it would be a mistake to try to understand his works by connecting them in the historical sense with one of these early modernist movements or with the culture of Japan. Federle does not seek new or even unique forms as other artists often do, but he is not an archaeologist of modernism either. He is interested only in the individual work and emphasizes the autonomy of abstract form and its meaning. This reveals his temporal and mental distance from the artists of High Modernism.