A.R. Penck at Michael Werner
Art in America
Jonathan Goodman
November 2002

Influenced by all manner of systems--cybernetics, information theory, behavioral sciences--as well as African art, A.R. Penck was known a generation ago as an artist who produced complicated paintings filled with stick figures and abstract designs, in which the effort to present raw information vies with the desire to work out a coherent composition. Penck's paintings were always a bit off to the side of Neo-Expressionism, which was wilder and more generally rhetorical in its effects; he was primarily interested in producing a visual language to serve his interest in ideas. He has always been an independent. 

This small show of acrylic paintings and two bronze sculptures attested to his continuing ability to render schematic imagery of an essentially and powerfully symbolic content. He offered five versions of a series titled "Adlertransformation" (Eagle Transformation), in which an eagle is simply but forcefully painted. In Romantic Illusion (2001), the bird is rendered in sharp black outlines, its body filled in with dark blue paint. The ground is light blue, with a rudimentary landscape of yellow-white mountains and an arctic-white sun. In Symbols in the Night (2001), the bird is surrounded by fragments of a mountainous landscape as well as a lobster and a naked male stick figure. The ground is washy blue. The signs don't specify meaning so much as they intimate a hidden world, in which action and belief are mediated by personal symbols. 

In a large, earlier painting titled Man in the Jungle (1997), Penck offers a dynamic, outsized version of his universal man. Outlined in red, the figure extends his hands and feet across the canvas. His body, painted green, is simple. The hands have only three fingers and the feet are roughly blocked out, while the head boasts four hammerlike protuberances. The ground consists of winding black lines that follow the contours of the figure; a light green is visible as well. Here, Penck offers a presence whose dominating posture is not without humor; strength is caricatured. The sculptures in the exhibition, one of a man holding a candle and the other a narrow totem with an erect phallus, also play with mythic effect.