Artificial paradises

On the exhibition "Immer wieder Sonntags" (Sunday after Sunday)
at 'Gallery Freitag 18.30', Aachen, 2011

Seeing Sigrid von Lintig's current paintings, one first notices in some the meticulously executed retro elements of 70s design that, though maybe seeming like cliched accessories, do play a starring role. These are items of children's or youngsters' clothing or the floral fabric of a sun lounger, the persistent flowers on bathroom tiles or car bodies, they are hairstyle and eyewear fashions. The stylistic link of the paintings themselves to American photorealism or to the blurs of Gerhard Richter's "capitalist realism" are references to that period. Although these ephemeral decorative features, subject to fashions, enjoy an almost evocative immortalisation here, they don't do so because of a delayed attempt by von Lintig to follow a pictorial fashion of the 90s, the era when e.g. Cosima von Bonin introduced Poul Gernes' psychedelic circle motifs to the lounge and party culture of the young art scene of the post-reunification Rhineland. Then the association with the 70s stood under a completely different sign to today; it was a reflex-like meditation on utopia and critique of capitalism, when talk everywhere was of the end of ideologies, of the final victory of the free market and of totally open systems. During that time Beat Wyss wrote in his book "Die Welt als T-shirt" (The World as a T-shirt) fittingly, that the assertion "Everything is art" does indeed apply: "Art is decoration and criticism, boot-licking and revolution, everything at the same time and thus as neutral as floral motif wallpaper".  

With Sigrid von Lintig in the year 2010-11 this temporal nexus of the post-reunification period is relinquished, of no more interest. Although she raids personal and friends' family photo albums for her paintings, the private world here has nothing to do with the public exposure of broken parental homes as with the Young British Artists nor with a suggested enthusiasm for the terrorist 'German Autumn'. Von Lintig's stand on her subjects seems to have stayed true to itself independently of the marks in time set in her paintings.

With some paintings this begins in recent times, in them historical time has progressed further already. The design of the finely grooved planks of the jetty on one of the bathing lake paintings characteristically only existed since the 90s in that shape, the same applies to the swimsuit fashion. Looking at the smaller formats of the last couple of years, one detects other, earlier times, the 60s and 50s. And making the effort to research von Lintig's paintings since the 90s, you discover in her early works urban structures around old regional collieries which have marked the cities since the early 20th century or, later, industrial architecture from 40s - 60s. They are locations of largely ambivalent promise. For their part the architecture of the old collieries, the administrative buildings and factory halls evoke architectural emotional set-pieces of full of pathos: Cathedrals, castles and palaces of the Middle Ages, often coupled with rudiments of an ideal city. The listed buildings are run-down and only remain witnesses of a dead community, of the decay of an economic region.  

In a following phase of von Lintig's work solitary industrial buildings from the 40s to the 60s are found, of a stylisation that recalls Konrad Klapheck and Pop Art offshoots. They seem to announce an obsolete optimism of the future, its impermanence. Even then von Lintig was using photographs as subjects and finally transforming the architectural method into those small, anonymous scenes which seem lifted from photographic albums. In them she addresses clearer than before the photographic motif itself, the confrontation with the medium of her art between painting and photography.

Similar to the architectures before them, the family photographs function contextually as witnesses, but precisely like them they do it in an ambivalent sense. The family albums themselves were originally a kind of expression of progressive family consciousness, because since the 50s no one composed contemplative, illustrated family diaries into which collected leaves, children's locks or saved milk teeth were inserted. The children's development and important family events were now recorded under the proviso of realism, in order to be able to authoritatively state: "That's exactly how it used to be". Quasi-objective certifications of one's own history, the ontological evidence of one's existence and its meaning - recorded with the best of intentions, they disclosed unwillingly, yet mercilessly, the decay of that existence, the bigotries, the impermanence and vulnerabiity of familial pseudo-harmony.  

"Immer wieder Sonntags kommt die Erinnerung" (Every Sunday there is the memory) was the line in the Cindy and Bert's popular hit from 1978, which probably was playing on the radio at von Lintig's and here lends the exhibition its name. in those times, the family Sunday used to be a term for familial togetherness, parents had time, activities were done with the children and possibly special items were worn, Sunday clothes which always felt a bit strange on the skin. It was the sanctified day of the family, even if you didn't believe in sanctuaries or the Lord almighty. The Sunday principle can be extended to family trips, summer holidays, leisure time in general. From children's vantage point moments of possibly ecstatic exuberance, but in retrospect also pervaded by the disillusionment of family crises, the inescapable phases of disgust at the over-orchestration of harmony and convention, the dressage by a banalised zeitgeist. The photographs are markers of private utopias or of their leftovers, artificial paradises, which Foucault wrote about as the basis of the dispositive of power.

Painting is, like the pseudo-reality of photographs, part of this game. While painting unmasks photography as pseudo-realistic pictures it also exposes itself in its quotes of photorealistic focus or blur as an ingredient of such an artificial paradise, an idea of art and craft, in which there is still authentic art, an honest artistic signature. The art market today lives to a large extent off this great projection of the 'as if'. Von Lintig's paintings mirror this value and its use in a multi-layered reflection. They are not to be trusted, better still: one shouldn't trust oneself before them.  

The conceptual is today summoned where it might be preferable to remain silent and better to avoid the bland word 'art'. But the notion of the conceptual is also diluted. To describe von Lintig's canvasses as conceptual painting, could only mean that she is maintaining the ductus of painting purely for appearance's sake, to convict the gaze of its own visual habits. Who however sees, hears and feels how she paints, knows that there is indeed real delight in painting behind it. Even here everything has at least two sides.

Carsten Probst, art critic, Berlin