Lot 157
  • 157

A. R. Penck

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • A. R. Penck
  • Standart
  • signed with the monogram; signed and dated 72 on the stretcher
  • dispersion on unprimed canvas
  • 110 by 110cm.; 43 1/4 by 43 1/4 in.


Dr. Gerhard Knull, Cologne
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1990


London, Tate Gallery; Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie & Württembergischer Kunstverein; Tübingen, Kunsthalle; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen; Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Sammlungsblöcke. Stiftung Froehlich, 1996-97, p. 95, no. 162, illustrated in colour
Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst (on temporary loan February 2001-November 2004)


Colours: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is deeper and richer in the original with the background tending more towards grey and the figure more towards black. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The canvas is quiet slack overall. There is minor wear to the upper left corner tip and small tear to the lower right corner tip. There are faint handling marks in places beneath the top edge and there is a very faint horizontal rub mark through the top of the figure's head. The composition displays areas of uneven pigmentation and vertical drying marks that are inherent to the artist's working process, all of which visible in the catalogue illustration. There is no retouching apparent when examined under ultra-violet.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"A Standart is a structure that, with its identities and nonidentities, represents a topological phenomenology. Here it is the difference that represents the visual experience. The number of nonidentical elements is a measure of perceptual ability in general... A Standart also yields criteria of memory and storage ability, as well as a general criterion of the capacity to visualize" (A. R. Penck, "Selected Writings by A. R. Penck", in John Yau, A. R. Penck, New York 1993, p. 117).

The totemic Primitivism of Standart is a paragon of Penck's emblematic system of semiotics. The viewer is urgently confronted with the brief visual referents and bold markings that characterise the artist's aesthetic philosophy, first coined under the banner of "Standart" in 1964. Ralf Winkler assumed the pseudonym A. R. Penck for his first show at Galerie Michael Werner in Cologne in 1969. The source of the alias, Albrecht Penck, was a German geographer and geologist who dedicated himself to geomorphology and climatology. The artist Penck sought to emulate scientific objectivity in the investigation of the human condition.

Fixated by advancements in mathematics, cybernetics and theoretical physics, Standart manipulates an invented Primitive vocabulary to deconstruct the systems of human behaviour prevalent in the East Germany of 1972. As Ingrid Pfeiffer has recently asserted, "Penck, above all, is an artist who incessantly questions, investigates, analyzes - both verbally and visually. He is a sceptic and casts doubt on all given facts and circumstances, not in a purely negative sense but rather in the manner of a scientist" (in Exhibition Catalogue, Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, A. R. Penck Retrospektive, 2007, p. 29). He was transfixed with assessing the underlying principles of Humanity's organisation, and was inevitably both the product and critic of the highly restrictive, manufactured social conditions of the communist GDR. It is significant that Penck once claimed that the most important book he had read was Ilya Prigogine's Order out of Chaos:  Man's new dialogue with Nature, a treatise that examines philosophical and scientific theories concerned with order and time to determine whether the universe is evolving or deteriorating.

The present work is both a semiological treatise on the presumptions of visual order and communication, and the realisation of surface patternation and brushstroke rendition endemic to the art-object. Imagistic quotations stimulate the viewer's depository of visual referents and a reductive sign language self-consciously streamlines communicative behaviour. Tying into the important art historical narrative of mark-making and aptly prefixing the knowingly naïve gestural significance of Jean-Michel Basquiat's works that followed a decade later, Standart is the fully-evolved assertion of Penck's communicative dialectic. As Penck himself declared: "The moment you are confronted with a picture, a piece of information enters the brain and you begin to work with it, whether you want to or not. In this way a picture becomes part of fate, because it is part of a power that motivates you".