A.R. Penck
The New Yorker
Jason Farago
22 August 2016

In 1959, before a wall divided Berlin and before the East German painter, born Ralf Winkler, adopted his pseudonym, he painted a small, oleaginous scene of a poker-faced, barefoot man condemned to the electric chair. The painting, the knockout incipit of this informative show of Penck’s early work, was the last properly figurative piece that he made. By the early sixties, he had adopted his signature style of flat hieroglyphs, in which stick figures stand tall, go to war, dance, and die. Excluded from the G.D.R.’s official academies, Penck often painted on board. His little-known sculptures, a highlight here, are of similarly humble origin: glass bottles and cardboard, painted a sorrowing gray, or two interlocking rings (manacles?) fashioned from aluminum foil.