Bungalows of the Apocalypse: Leipzig Painter Ulf Puder at Ana Cristea
Ulf Puder at Ana Cristea Gallery
January 13 to February 19, 2011
521 West 26th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, (212) 904-1100
Ulf Puder, who was born in 1958, studied at Leipzig’s Academy of Visual Arts and continues to live and work in that city, belongs to the generation of East German artists that counts Neo Rauch as its best known member. Puder favors the striking, forceful representation of bungalows and small houses, which often teeter on the brink of destruction, the victims of a natural—or perhaps unnatural—apocalypse. Often the buildings remain vulnerable to what may be an imminent storm; the open faces of the structures are filled with geometric panels in the form of vertical planks, painted pastel colors. They usually face a threatening sky. We don’t know what has taken place or is about to happen, although, by way of explanation. Offenes Gelaende (2010) presents the specter of a tornado touching down in a lot surrounded by low buildings. In general, the atmosphere in Puder’s art menaces both the composition and its audience. Viewers can interpret his melancholy architecture as they wish—perhaps a symbolic reading. One that extends to the general dismay of contemporary art’s culture, is most effective in capturing the elusive formalism he specializes in
Waldbad (2010) is a large work that features three bungalows fronting a shallow pool that has a blue band defining it, and a simple white guardrail. The small houses have open walls that are filled with narrow pieces of wood painted bright colors—yellow, blue, and green. The roofs are various shades of green. Two planks. One olive in color and the other a brownish orange, float in the water. The sky is heavy and dark, ranging in hue from a deep gray-blue just above the bungalows; a lighter gray-blue occurs at the top of the composition. No figures are seen in this menacing study, whose elements verge on abstraction if viewed as individual parts. Here, and in the other works, we see Puder working at the cusp between representation and abstraction, where the overall gestalt is accessible as figuration but also presents itself as a nonobjective arrangement of forms. As architecture, the small houses don’t make much sense, but they exude foreboding and a sense that a day of reckoning is neer.
The kind of mystery seen in Waldbad is reprised in Abland, also from 2010. This painting looks nearly like a child’s set of geometric blocks spilled onto the ground. Architectural forms and even parts of houses balance precariously on top of each other; in the foreground, some of the forms have fallen, but the viewer is given a good view of how the dark-green steeple and other constituent parts fit into each other. Here the composition moves even closer toward the realm of abstraction, even if we never quite lose sight that we are dealing with architectural elements. The right angles of the forms are sharply painted, making them both parts of houses and examples of geometry. A murky blue sky giving off soft light makes the scene seem arbitrary and artificial. The thick black column and heavy gray clouds that comprise the tornado in Offenes Gelaende presents proof of what is only an incipient storm in Puder’s other canvases. Here the massive black vertical comes down squarely in the middle of the painting; behind it are a few low buildings, painted olive green, slate blue, and gray. They complement the work’s color scheme but are only small in significance when compared to the vast power of the tornado. Here, at least, we know why the massive clouds feel so dangerous. In the more architectural works, the painting has seemingly been finished just before the damage is done. Puder, whose enigmas are entirely convincing, emphasizes mystery above all else.