Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Deftly painted with the technical skill of a hand devoted to figurative art, Das Angebot belies its author’s complete mastery of the traditional modes of picture making. Studying in the venerable Art Academy in Leipzig in the early 1990s, Rauch received an unrivalled formal education that prioritised drawing from the model, mastering the rules of perspective, and analysing composition. By contrast, in West Germany, these fundamental skills had been eroded by modes of abstract and conceptual art which promoted feeling and idea over technique and lifelike depiction. In effect, the Iron Curtain sheltered the East and its esteemed painterly lineage, from the disruptive influence of Joseph Beuys, who, in the West was divesting art of its academicism.
The semi-comprehensible elements of the present work demand close examination. In the foreground a male and female figure stand in front of a table. We notice their quasi-historical dress, their blank vapid stares, and particularly the grotesque satyr-esque figure, articulated in an ugly greenish hue, which lies in front of them. The woman seems to tend to the twisted and contorted humanoid figure, while the man faces outwards and gesticulates in a manner redolent of a Renaissance anatomy lesson and bestows upon the painting the aura of a sacrificial offering. Elsewhere on the table lie two abandoned name plates whilst the middle-ground is dominated by two men battling a huge fictitious chimerical beast. In the dramatic thrust of their spear, and in their prominent scarlet jodhpurs, they also seem to recall a forgotten time. The background features the bizarre juxtaposition of a Soviet mill, shrunken to miniature size but still replete with a high cylindrical chimney, next to a farmhouse which towers above it. The overall impression is bizarre and beguiling, rejecting any formal meaning, and creating a pervasive and uneasy sense of the uncanny.
Despite rebuking surrealist comparisons, Rauch does compare his own works with dreams. Both are intangible, suggestive of meaning, but devoid of interpretable content: “the poetical substance in perceptions from the corner of one’s eyes is actually very close to the images from dreams. Everyone knows the feeling. You perceive something from this perspective, then you go after it, and then it is gone” (Neo Rauch quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Wolfsburg, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Neo Rauch – Neue Rollen. Paintings 1993-2006, 2006, p. 111). However, instead of his own dreams, Rauch focuses on the collective conscience of his East German heritage. In the present work, this is evoked through the high mill and historic dress. Through this use of an enigmatic and pseudo-dreamlike atmosphere, Rauch creates an allegory for the biography of his nation. Snippets are recognisable, inferences can be made, but “the telling of the dream itself is an abstraction. A dream cannot be told to anyone” (Ibid., p. 130).
Every stage of Rauch’s narrative elicits a question which ultimately points not towards progress but towards stasis and futility. Although powerfully narrative, Rauch’s work presents us with a puzzle that cannot be elucidated by text. In this way, Das Angebot conveys a mood, not a message. Contra to the work’s pseudo social-realist appearance and no matter how knowledgeable the viewer of the history behind its style, this painting is a code that cannot be broken.
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