A.R. Penck, 1939–2017

A.R. Penck, Ralf, 1962, oil on canvas,123.5 x 134cm. Private collection, Quenza

The German artist Ralf Winkler, best known as A.R. Penck, has died aged 77. He was celebrated for his politically-charged, pictographic imagery. Part of a group of post-war German artists (including Markus Lüpertz, Georg Baselitz and Jörg Immendorff), A.R. Penck’s career spanned more than five decades. Living in Dresden in the German Democratic Republic, during in the early 1960s Penck developed a pictorial vocabulary that he named ‘Standart’, making use of language, mathematics and cybernetics as a way to address social, economic and political issues. Meeting the gallerist Michael Werner in Dresden, Penck would later smuggle his works to Cologne, where he gained his first exposure outside of the East German state. His first solo museum exhibition took place at Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld in 1971, though he was unable to travel outside of the GDR. In 1980 he emigrated from East to West Berlin, where he became associated with the ‘Neuen Wilden’ ("New Savages") generation of artists, whose turn to a anarchic, 'neo-expressionist' style of painting would come to characterise the early 1980s.

Working predominantly as a painter and sculptor,  Penck was also a writer and musician – together with Frank Wollny, he founded the free jazz group, Triple Trip Touch, and performed as the drummer, often collaborating with jazz greats such as Butch Morris, Frank Wright, Billy Bang, Louis Moholo and Frank Lowe. In 1982 he took part in Zeitgeist (Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin), the associated show A New Spirit in Painting at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, and the following year his work appeared in New Art (Tate, London), all major shows which secured his international reputation.

Penck has had solo exhibitions worldwide at institutions including Kunsthalle Bern; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; and Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. His works are held in public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, London’s Tate, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Neue National Galerie Berlin, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, is currently presenting Rites de Passage, a major retrospective of Penck’s work, on view through 18 June. 

4 May 2017