Oct 20, 2014 9:56AM

In the andreas gursky | neo rauch | jeff wall exhibition at kestnergesellschaft, three of today’s most important artists will meet for the first time: the photographers Andreas Gursky (*1955) and Jeff Wall (*1946) and the painter Neo Rauch (*1960). Connections between their wide-ranging oeuvres is what generates the point of departure for this unusual encounter. Select works show how the three artists engage with, push forward and rethink the tradition of the figurative picture, each in their own way.

Even though no paintings will be featured in the exhibition, it allows for a commonality to be established that carries important reference points for the works on display by Gursky, Rauch and Wall. Instead, all three artists use other media to continue, reshape and present methods, categories and conventions that are traditionally associated with painting, such as Rauch’s drawings and sculptures or in Gursky and Wall’s large-format photographs. Exhibited and arranged as a visual experiment, each work independently develops its own potential for a set of unexpected discoveries, contrasts and references. This gives rise to a broad spectrum of possibilities for pictorial representation, ranging from the documentary and the cinematographic to formal abstractions, unreal constructions and the fantastical.

Two thematic strands in the exhibition emerge from the two new Lehmbruck works (2013 and 2014) by Andreas Gursky. Using techniques of digital photomontage, Gursky filled the modernist exhibition spaces of the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg with an imaginary collection of contemporary artworks, including an illuminated transparency by Jeff Wall and a sculpture by Neo Rauch (also in the exhibition). On the one hand, this idea of a collection of images brings forth a sober look at the museum as an institution, whose mission to conserve selected works becomes inseparable from a sovereignty of interpretation; who decides what will be preserved and exhibited? On the other hand, it is the representation of the human figure in each of the Lehmbruck works that becomes a central theme of involvement with the pictorial.

Presented in Germany for the first time are two other photographs by Gursky, each showing an interpretation of Hollywood comic-book heroes against idealized landscapes, while other works in the exhibition the viewer becomes subject to a strict choreography and disappears into the supremacy of the collective. These monumental photographs, each digitally constructed from many individual images, follow a formal structure and solidify into pictures that exaggerate the visible into the absolute.

Instead of Neo Rauch’s famous paintings, an extensive portfolio of drawings and two sculptures will be shown that so far have only rarely been presented. In their spontaneity, the drawings are fleeting testimonies to internalized images that are recorded on paper without being filtered. Couples or small groups of figures, entangled in impenetrable combinations, awkward heroes and fabulous creatures, fantastic metamorphoses, dreamlike visions and comical collisions—time and again it is this apparent disparity that Rauch brings together in these improvisations. Moreover like the drawings, the two life-size bronze sculptures Die Jägerin (2011) and Nachhut (2011) are formulations of a pictorial vocabulary that is informed by painting in other media.

With regard to Jeff Wall, the photographs exhibited focus on his large-format black-and-white and color prints from recent years. The advancement of each photograph starts between the poles of the cinematographic and what he calls the “near-documentary,” continuing his involvement with realism and increasingly taking up documentary-style approaches. Unlike Gursky and Rauch, the photographs direct the viewer’s gaze to the supposedly unspectacular, to dismal antiheroes and unprivileged figures engaged in banal activities. It appears they follow an accidental aesthetic of a sort of socially motivated street photography, but are in fact consciously composed and staged shots of reenacted scenes that freeze an everyday narrative into pictures of superior significance.