Gunter Reski at Nagel Draxler, Cologne

By Moritz Scheper

Gunter Reski, Organwanderung jetzt, 2018 (installation view). Photo: Simon Vogel. Courtesy the artist and Nagel Draxler, Cologne

Gunter Reski is easily overlooked – so far he has been rather sparsely taken up by important institutions and galleries – and yet he is one of the key figures within the German discourse on painting. This is mainly because of his writing: temperate, cryptic exhibition reviews in which he feels for a language to adequately describe painting. That the Bochum-born, fifty-something artist’s own painting practice is far from insignificant, though, is once again highlighted by Organwanderung jetzt, his first exhibition with Nagel Draxler. In particular the exhibition highlights how Reski sees the separation between talking and writing about painting and painting itself as obsolete, manifested in the way the works are displayed as a gigantic, floor-to-ceiling pseudo-newspaper: every bit of wall is covered in text columns into which Reski inserts a mass of his own paintings and works on paper. The overloaded and erratic flood of images characteristic of a salon hang thereby gains an underlying composition, acquiring not only structure but also a certain logic.

Contentwise, the ‘newspaper’ is explained in the text as the creation of a single fictitious person who produces it, daily, against boredom: an eccentric monologue, which the unnamed author deems an absolute necessity. It is surely not too farfetched to read Reski’s placement of his work within this format as an allegory of the contemporary painter. The wall newspaper serves not only as a simple display device but aims at the mutual annotation of text and image, and this naturally guides the gaze towards paintings closely linked to the narration: Staubfussel (Dustball, 2018), for example, an elegantly painted, highly magnified dustball with some entangled hairs, the writing proximately talking about a messy apartment. The painting is more than an illustration, though, linking directly to the painterly discourse of the Rhineland. The graceful, vague physicality of the dustball, with its mauve shadowing, is reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s cloud paintings; the hairs’ wild lines recall certain works by Albert Oehlen. The thematically related painting Abflussfussel (Drain Lint, 2018) depicts a filthy tangle of hair, again blurred in a Richteresque manner, but more harshly and against the background of a specific blue that, to a trained eye, immediately connects to Markus Lüpertz.

Yet Reski doesn’t do this primarily to plant references for an informed public. Rather he thematises style as such, by trolling and splashing together the stylistic signatures of other painters. He does position himself as a repertoire painter, though since he has been doing this for a long time, a number of styles are now noticeably Reskian. The grisaille Kühlschrank mit Heizung (Fridge with Heater, 2018), painted with heavy strokes, in which a heater jumps out of a fridge, is part of his sequence of broadly painted tautologies in kitchen spaces. Plus there’s a multitude of typefaces, sometimes added to the painting as a quasi-architectural moment, as in Nudeln mit Teller (Pasta with Plate, 2013), on which a bunch of spaghetti hovers above a brown plate that belonged to the artist’s dead mother, as the text framing it informs us. Sometimes the text is the only element, as in one piece of cardboard with three-dimensional letters mounted on it or the crumpled, unstretched canvases, whose sprayed folds of fabric reveal short texts such as ‘I always hear you inhale’ (Ich höre dich immer nur einatmen, 2016). Together with Reski’s stylistic pluralism, this extension of writing into painting pleads for a style of painting that does not end in a single canvas but only reveals itself in an exchange. Since, for Reski, this exchange should be as linguistically precise as possible, he still clings to German as ‘his’ language. This, incidentally, may also be a reason why he is not so well known abroad.

Gunter Reski: Organwanderung jetzt at Nagel Draxler, Cologne, 8 September – 20 October

From the December 2018 issue of ArtReview