Günter UmbergFontfroideA House of Paintings

Public Event
Art Basel
Art Unlimited 2004
16 Jun21 Jun 2004
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Fontfroide — A House of Paintings

Günter Umberg has created a large-scale installation entitled Fontfroide, which is a model representation of a future work.
Fontfroide — its title makes reference to the eponymous twelfth century Cistercian monastery in southern France — deals with key questions concerning the presentation and representation of art in general and of the painting in particular. Inspired by a house of cards and Wladimir Tatlin's tower dating from 1920 Umberg elaborated in 2002 on the occasion of the exhibition “The Museum, the Collection, the Director and his Loves” at the Museum Moderner Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, and in 2003 for the twentieth anniversary of the Galerie Rolf Ricke un­usual forms of presentation in order to “show” various works, above all those by other artists.
In his work Fontfroide Gunter Umberg takes this approach a step further: using a framework made of untreated square timber rods that form different size cubes he is planning an over four-meter-high architectural structure. Arranged within these cubes are some 50 titles by approx. 50 artists, works, which are important to Umberg's understanding of painting. However, if these paintings were indeed to be integrated into the cubes, it would produce a complex overall picture: stacked up against and in front of each other, many of the paintings — particularly those higher up — would be hidden from view. In his work Umberg approaches the theme, which addresses the meaning assumed by the painted image and the right way of handling this, with an array of questions about the relationship between the autonomy and authorship of art and the artist.
Not all of the artists cited by him will go along with this manner of presentation without objection. Umberg, however, doesn't interpret even this as pure rejection but rather as a further important, objective, and perfectly understandable argument in the charged terrain between artistic identity and the social relevancy of art. Fontfroide is a critically reflected house of paintings in which Gunter Umberg expresses great esteem for the artists through his active exploration of the vast potential of painting approaches.
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Jan Thorn-Prikker in an Interview with Günter Umberg

Günter Umberg, You describe your Basel work as a model? Why?
The house of paintings is a model, art for the purpose of art. The tower consists of modules that serve as a framework. Sometimes large, sometimes smaller, narrow or wide, sometimes almost square, then standing on end as if reaching for the ceiling. Together with the inserted panels they become a spatial entity. The paintings thus implied and addressed become in this way an integral part of the edifice.
You don't actually fill the model, the frame structure, with the works of other artists. At the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art you were still using works of art, although one couldn't actually see them. Are you radicalizing your approach, taking it a step further? Whereas in the house of paintings one would expect actual artworks, this time there are only references to them in the form of blank panels. Could your Basel work be referred to as a blank or “empty form”?
I like the notion of an empty form. In this concept the absence of original works points to questions like presence and absence, longing, recollection and imagination. The empty form gives me the possibility to let my own work merge with other works to form a new order.
The title of the work makes reference to the twelfth century Cistercian monastery Fontfroide in southern France and to the order's search for a new beginning in a new spirituality, against the opulence of the clergy and against a purely ornamental utilization of paintings.
The Basel house of paintings ponders the intended purpose of the paintings. To what extent does freedom of action apply when dealing with the works? Can the artist let go of his work, hand it over to the responsibility of another?
My visions of paintings grow with paintings. For several years a house of paintings has been forming in my head. Now I am trying to take that which is in my head, that which arose out of an adventure of experience with paintings and turn it into a built painting. The house of paintings is an archive that has emerged from inside of me. I have been carrying it around with me for a long time. It's got a lot to do with experienced time, with experience. If you love paintings, you simply don't let go of them.
(shortened version of the interview conducted on 15/4/2004)
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