Andreas Spiegl – Disparity & Despair

11 Oct 2017
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Disparity & Despair
Von Andreas Spiegl

One has become used to reading about how art can change the world; how by
visualising the unimaginable and the new, art can be productive of perspective and
can influence and astound us. Inscribed in this reading is the expectation that the
world would then look different, somehow corrected by a conception of art which
should, if nothing else, sustain the idea that change is possible. One cannot ignore
the claim to difference from the status quo implicit in this point of view, a difference
that separates art from the world – a distance through which criticality could develop
and be nourished. It was once considered avant-garde and fashionable to portray art
hastening forwards, already sketching a horizon towards which the culture of the
everyday should aim, or against which it should be warned – this was accompanied
by the feeling of delay, and corresponding attempts to make artistic innovation bend
to its perceived critical function. Just as Ronald Kodritsch was turning to art and
deciding to become and artist himself, precisely this concept of art was in a period of
crisis characterised by a postmodern scepticism over the tenability of the claim that
the world could be changed through progress and art. Rather than heeding the
modernist appeal for an aesthetic of innovation, to innovate now meant to change the
principle of change itself: the concept of actuality (Aktuelles) was emancipated from a
chronology of innovation, thereby giving space for a hybridisation of the concept of
presence. Thus a coexistence became conceivable juxtaposing heterogeneous
cultural and historical motifs, which were suddenly able to interrelate where
previously they would have been regarded as contradictory and incoherent. But
instead of proposing a universal synthesis, disparity itself was established as a
principle. In this sense, disparity supplies the coordinates of the cultural context out
of and in which Ronald Kodritsch’s artistic practice arose.
Considering the wide spectrum of genres and media associated with Kodritsch, it
always seems to be painting that represents his essential profession most accurately.
Precisely painting, a discipline that has been written off time and again in the face of
relentless demands for novelty, offered the paradoxical possibility of holding onto a
supposedly obsolete genre, perhaps even retaining the idea of a good picture or
good painting, while at the same time inscribing and opposing a motif indebted to
antithesis and irony. Such is the case in Bikinimädchen, with the male painter’s
sprawling fantasies of pubic hair, where good painting collides with a disturbingly
sexist motif; or in Bastards, the dog portraits that combine a canine face of profound
pictorial quality with anthropomorphic hairstyles; or indeed the tractor with its
potbellied, hat-wearing driver, in which a pictorial spectrum of highly complex colour
nuances and compositions fraught with tension meet the icon of sedentary cultures.
Moreover, the tractor’s associative function in relation to the body, echoing the
ascription of phallocentric motifs, allows the interplay between good taste in painting
and sexist chains of association to be established. A well-painted picture is also to be
understood as a challenge – a test picture which short-circuits the convention of a
history of ‘good taste’ with the convention of the ‘morally suspect’. Kodritsch’s
paintings give both sides a hearing, intertwining them on the horizon of disparity to
achieve an aesthetic of contradiction. As in a reversible optical illusion, the gaze flips
from the complex pictorial structure to the banality of the motif, and from there back
to the reflection of a history of painting: Kodritsch’s references traverse the history of
art, from Romantic (landscape) painting, through the history of abstraction and
abstract Expressionism, past Kippenberger & Co and into the present. The structure
of a pervasive motif, as can be clearly seen in the example of the tractor, allows for
the juxtaposition of myriad pictorial languages and references. Repetition of the same
motif has a self-neutralising effect, whereby the depicted object is transformed into
an abstract figure. The tractor becomes a simple combination of round and angular
forms driven by an anthropomorphic character. In the process of shaping the
individual elements, artistic interpretation is uncoupled from the objective motif and,
thus detached from or turned against the latter, can be established as an
autonomous figure in the scene. This autonomy of painting appears able to neutralise
the notion of disparity and dissolve contradiction. To attempt simply to block out or
mask the motif, however, is to ignore the nuanced tapestry of play and irony. In fact,
what is at stake here is the perpetuation of disparity – a moment of ambiguity and
doubt. Instead of eliminating doubt through the grandiosity of the artistic gesture, the
constant re-emergence of the motif engenders both variability and insistence. In
contrast to the search for novelty referred to at the outset, according to which one
believed to have taken a step forward in order then to cast a critical look back, there
emerges here an adherence to an »as-well-as«: to the challenge of defining complex
artistic qualities and simultaneously staring banality in the face, in other words: to
achieve a synthesis of beauty and knowledge of the banal. Hence the question that
arises is less about a new picture or new visual practices and much more about a
view of disparity constantly anew: can an aesthetic of contradiction be constantly
renewed? Like the Date Paintings by On Kawara, which are more indebted to
repetition than series, can contradiction be achieved again and again? Here, instead
of the search for a new picture, the search is for a picture constantly anew. In this
sense, even the most divergent paintings by Kodritsch offer a thread of continuity –
an insistence on this same aspiration, each time with renewed intensity. The choice
of different pictorial languages and references only serves as the vocabulary for
variability, reiterating the urgency of a question that recurs on a daily basis. Such a
form of questioning constitutes a plea for disparity, which becomes all the more
intense as the distance between the desire for (artistic) complexity and for a life
beyond the confines of good taste increases, culminating in an ability to experience
contradiction as a binding motif in today’s present. Therein lies the realistic aspect of
Kodritsch’s paintings, at once abstract and concrete, as they are – an arc which
infuses disparity with a tang of despair.

Written by  Ronald