Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 2000)
Christie’s, London, 16 February 2011, Lot 36 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Denver, Denver Art Museum, Radar, October 2006 - July 2007, p. 145, no. 44, illustrated in colour
Rauch’s minimalistic title is spelled out within the landscape of the painting itself; the red, capital block like letters stand boldly atop an empty stadium of scarlet seats, calling to mind advertising billboards or propaganda posters. The title is accented by the red track that weaves through the artwork, and the trail of dust upon it in the lower right-hand corner, for the word ‘spur’ is German for ‘track’ or ‘trail.’ Illustrating figures driving large tractors and agricultural machinery whilst gathering crops, the political even communist undertones in the present work are laid bare for the viewer. As such, the cloud-like diagram bubbles, with ribbon-like arrows, seem a touch out of place. These “narrative fragments, abstract fields of colour, visual references, colour correspondences, patterns and scenes are set into constant orbit without ever allowing the viewer’s eye to settle on any single element” (Thomas Wagner, ‘A Chunk of Antarctica on its Return Flight,’ in: Exh. Cat., Leipzig, Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, Neo Rauch: Randgebiet, 2000, p. 15). Indeed, the present work pushes at the limits of realist painting, by incorporating more abstract and surreal elements.
Like an internal dreamscape, with fact and fiction both bubbling up through one’s consciousness, Rauch has allegedly claimed that he can see the landscapes he paints quite clearly in his mind, as if he were painting them from real life (Ulf Küster, ‘Neo Rauch’s Landscapes’, in: Exh. Cat., Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, Neo Rauch, 1997, p. 36). This contributes to the overwhelming sense that something is strangely detached yet also incredibly familiar within his work. Perhaps Rauch is drawing upon old memories, seen through a time-worn lens, recalling the rolling lowlands around Leipzig where he was born. Perhaps, for us, a sense of déjà-vu emerges because the present work evokes the kind of figures, forms, and feelings of vintage video games, dusty book jackets, and vintage comics.
Colour further contributes to Spur’s nostalgic mood, in that within “Neo Rauch’s heterogeneous spaces, time is heaped up into colours” (Hubertus von Ameluxen, ‘Rubber-stamped Horizons’, in: op. cit., 2000, p. 28). The particular reds, blues, yellows, and greens that dominate the canvas appear faded and bleached, like a muted Pop art painting or the kind of old colour pages that have been exposed in the sun for too long. These sun-soaked colours anchor Rauch’s painting in the past, aligning the present work with the kind of washed-out retro colourings used in advertisements from the 1930, 40s and 50s.
Yet despite these ties to the past, Rauch’s Spur also looks towards to the future. The title’s English translation directs our attention back to the whimsical ribbon like trails, each with an arrow attached to one end. Combined, they suggest a sense of sequence or diagrammatic logic in moving forward from the past with progress and intent. It is difficult, however, to determine exactly where these arrows lead, likewise, it is difficult to know what the future will look like. Rauch’s works are not meant to be narrative in their presentation of historical facts or visions of the future, instead he paints in a way that explores multiple temporalities simultaneously, making the present work a sensationally complex display of contrasting visual references.
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