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NEUE WILDEN WORKS from the 80s

Stefan Szczesny

September 13 – October 9, 2012



The exhibit explores the early 80s, when Szczesny emerged as one of the protagonists of a young generation of bold figurative painters in the German-speaking world who came to be known as “Neue Wilde.”  Contact the gallery for more information.




Modernism In The Service Of The Pleasure Principle:  Stefan Szczesny’s Art by Donald Kuspit

Boldly self-conscious, and confrontational, in his two Self-Portraits of 1984 Stefan Szczesny presents himself as the classical Expressionist painter:   passionate and rebellious, as the historian Douglas Kellner put it, a sort of transgressive Übermensch, as he adds, superior to the bourgeois “herd” by reason of his creativity, symbolized by the brush and palette he holds in one of the self-portraits.  In that same self-portrait he is flanked by the sketch of a female nude and a more sedate female head, the former suggesting the body and the latter the soul of the Eternal Feminine, as Goethe called her, that “draws us on,” as he said at the end of Faust.  The former is erotically romantic, her body there for the sexual asking, facing us in unashamed nakedness, the latter peculiarly remote and “classical,” a detached, insular profile, a woman with a mind of her own, unlike the odalisque, who seems all body and no mind.  The contour of the odalisque’s young body is blue, the profile of the more mature woman is spotted with blue, but both are luminously white, suggesting they’re ghosts.
Indeed, they haunt Szczesny’s art, recurring with obsessive regularity, complementing each other, even oddly one:  the eternal feminine, in all her indulgent nakedness, may be physically accessible, but she is emotionally inaccessible, strangely indifferent to the male artist’s penetrating gaze.  She is, after all, eternal, that is, above it all, however seductively feminine and earthy her body may be.  The point is made clear by the Blue Nude and Yellow Nude, both also painted in 1984—wonderful tributes, not to say idealizing homages to the Fauvist nudes of Matisse and the Brücke nudes of Kirchner.  The blue nude is turned away from us, the yellow nude faces us, but she looks downward, with a kind of contemplative melancholy.  Both seem unaware of the artist’s presence, although he’s clearly present in the Blue Nude.
Szczesny is excited by their bodies, as the flurry of painterly activity around them—dramatically black, with the yellow nude framed by an amorphous blur of passionate red—strongly suggests, but they couldn’t care less.  He looks intensely at her in the Blue Nude, an intensity which spills over into the painterliness, but she turns away, and the contours of her body are intact, suggesting that she’s self-contained and impenetrable, making her mysterious for all the vividness of her flesh.  The feminist historian Carol Duncan famously argued that the paintbrush was a surrogate phallus, but however powerful the expressionist painter’s handling it was unable to penetrate the female subject’s naked body, spilling its painterly seed over it in a futile attempt at intercourse.  Duncan’s interpretation is somewhat extreme, but the point remains:  the expressionist painter “manhandles” the female model’s body all he wishes, but his wish is never consummated, reminding us that expressionist paintings of the female nude are dreams, that is, surrogate wish fulfillments, as Freud said a dream is.
Let us recall that Faust sold his soul to the devil for sex—and his mind, for he was a great scholar and intellectual—but in the end was saved by a heavenly chorus.  He wanted wealth and power, and finally married Venus, and had a family with her, but none of it gave him lasting pleasure.  Nonetheless, his “striving” saved him, especially when it led him to reclaim land from the sea in the Netherlands, sublimating his instincts and thus recovering his reason.  Striving is self-evident in Szczeny’s paintings—rational striving for aesthetic fulfillment, not just irrational striving for sexual fulfillment.  Szczesny’s art may be erotomanic, but it also shows a great deal of aesthetic intelligence.  His bust of a female nude epitomizes his obsession with woman in all her perverse majesty, but it is also an artistic tour de force, a pure work of art epitomizing modernist ideas about art.  It may celebrate woman, but in the end more importantly it successfully brings together two basic strands of modernism:  the emphasis on the medium for its own material sake, as Clement Greenberg put it, and the attempt to articulate what Kandinsky called the “dissonance” and “discontinuity” of modern life, involving the seemingly insurmountable conflict between the material and spiritual, in the “dynamic equilibrium”—ironic harmony?–of a “new (visual) music.”  The bust is a consummate, masterly realization of these two goals.
The vivid colors—the familiar red and black–with their vigorous handling, clash and contrast, adding an expressionistic surface to the classical bust, seemingly made of pure white light, but they also bizarrely harmonize, as they do in an all-over painting.  There may be reckless abandon in the painterliness, but the extravagant gestures, seemingly straight from the unconscious, form a self-conscious whole.  The seemingly uncontrollable, “wild” gestures—reminding us that Szczesny was one of the major painters in the German Neue Wilden movement that emerged into international prominence with the “New Spirit of Painting” exhibition held in Berlin and London in 1981—are in fact under complete aesthetic control.  The colorful surface is in effect a pure painting—painting for the sake of painting, aesthetically refining raw pigment, giving it what the materialistic Greenberg himself called “unconscious and preconscious” meaning, borrowing the terms from the topographical model of the psyche that Freud described in The Interpretation of Dreams.  Similarly, Szczesny integrates two-dimensional painting and three-dimensional sculpture, making for a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk.  Dynamic painting is in effect three-dimensionalized, adding to the projective power of the color, and static sculpture two-dimensionalized into a canvas that becomes a kind of cornucopia of color.  Szczesny’s painted sculptures are aesthetically profound, for they reconcile the opposites by emphasizing their opposition.
The bust is a kind of dialectical masterpiece.   Once Szezesny abandons the equivocally eternal feminine, and turns to the even more equivocal—relentlessly contradictory—modern world, as he does in a number of urbanscapes, he comes into his dialectical own.   In Noratlas, 1980 a diagonal cuts across fragments of urban space, reminding us, as Theodor Adorno emphasized, that modern art is a sum of fragments rather than a preconceived whole, like the modern world and unlike traditional art.   The work evokes Malevich’s Aerodynamic Suprematism—the first phase of Suprematism–thus taking us back to the abstract beginnings of modern art and its fascination with modern technology.  The two airplane fragments seem to have a direct predecessor in Gorky’s 1937 design for a mural—now painted over–at Newark airport.   The black diagonal cutting through an untitled urbanscape conveys the dynamics of the city and the jumble of fragmentary building facades its unsettling energy—an energy evident everywhere in Szczesny’s art.  It is concentrated in the objects in his wonderful still lives.  Shedding the eternal feminine, Szczesny comes into his masculine own:  his objects have a geometrical sturdiness, solidity, and solemnity—the objects in one still life allude to Cézanne’s idea that painters should “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (in effect eternalizing nature)–that his curvaceous, exciting females lack, perhaps because they are the objects of desire rather than objects that have what the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called the indisputable separateness of reality.
Szczesny’s David, 1984, a deceptively simple portrait—certainly less busy, or at least more restrained and straightforward than many of Szczesny’s works–of his young son, crouching with his hands on his knees, is another “objective” masterpiece, as the eternalizing geometry of his body—his triangular torso, flanked by curved buttocks—makes clear.  Abstraction and representation ingeniously converge, even as they remain at odds, making the figure uncanny.  Szezesny “argues” for their inseparability–the aesthetic necessity of both—but the tension between them is excruciating, suggesting their inherent difference.  Their simultaneity confirms their estrangement even as it unites them.  Apollinaire famously said that “the simultaneity of colors through simultaneous contrasts and through all the quantities that emanate from the colors, in accordance with the way they are expressed in the movement represented…is the only reality one can construct through painting,” but Szczesny shows that this is not exclusively so.  The simultaneity of colors can also be used to “construct” human reality, however autonomous and “self-serving” they remain:  quantity can become quality.  David’s  confrontational pose and intense wide-eyed stare–set in a face that harks back to the mask-like “primitivized” faces in Matisse’s portraits of his son—suggest that he’s a Neue Wilden in the making.
The conflict between the blue and red suggests his inner conflict:  the dialectic of his being is unresolved.  Primary colors are always at odds, however reconcilable in complementary colors, but there are no complementary colors in Szczesny’s painting, making it even more starkly expressive.  It brings to mind Kirchner’s Seated Girl, 1910—she’s as defiant as David–but it has orange, yellow, and green it, compromising the strong red and blue planes.  They are uncompromisingly in-your-face in Szczesny’s portrait.  They are more dramatically insistent than in any expressionist portrait.  Once again blue represents reason, red represents instinct, which are perennially at odds, but they make powerful aesthetic and emotional music together in Szczesny’s masterpiece.

Stefan Szczesny


Lives and works in Saint Tropez


1969-75 Studies and degree course at the Akademie für Bildende Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), Munich
1975 Scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service in Paris


1979 Städtische Galerie at the Lenbachhaus, Munich Art Forum
1980 Villa Romana scholarship, Florence
1981 Initiator of the exhibition entitled “Rundschau Deutschland”, Munich and Cologne
1982 Villa Massimo scholarship, Rome
1984 Metamorphoses, State Antique Collection, Munich
1988 Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn
1990 Kunstverein Augsburg (Augsburg Art Society)
1990 Kunstverein Mannheim
1991 Idols, Kunstverein Heidelberg
1992 Portraits, DuMont Kunsthalle, Cologne
1991 Portraits, Kunsthalle Bremen
1993 Caribbean Style, Neue Galerie, Linz
1996 International Senefelder Prize for Printed Graphics
1997 Works 1975-1996, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin
1997 Ceramic Vases and Vessels, Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe
1997 Ceramics. Painting. Vases., Gerhard Marcks-Haus, Bremen
1998 Pictures of the Côte d’Azur, Kunsthalle in Emden
1998 Museo del Grabado Español Contemporaneo, Marbella
1999 Pictures of the Côte d’Azur, Museum of Modern Art, Passau
1999 Sculptures and Glass, Ceramic Museum, Mettlach
1999 Painting Meets Photography, Fondazione Levi, Venice
2000 World Map of Life, 12 large-format ceramic murals, commissioned by WWF for the EXPO 2000 in Hanover
2001 Painting Meets Photography, Städtische Galerie Villa Dessauer, Bamberg
2001 Luxe, Calme et volupté …ou la joie de vivre, La Malmaison, Cannes
2002 Szczesny, artrium, Geneva
2002 Szczesny, Casa de la Provincia, Sevilla
2002 Premiere of “Szczesny – The Film” at the 55th Film Festival in Cannes
2003 A Feast for the Eyes, Gustav-Lübcke-Museum, Hamm
2003 Méditerranée – L’Esthétique du Sud, Salle Jean Despace, Saint-Tropez
2004 Szczesny – Una Fiesta para los Ojos, Palma de Mallorca
2005 Kunsthalle Mannheim
2006 Shadow sculptures all over the city of St. Tropez
2007 A Dream of Earthly Paradise, Mainau Island Art Project, Mainau
2007 Musée de la Photographie Villa Aurélienne, Fréjus
2007 Centre d’art la Malmaison, Cannes
2008 Sculptures d’ombre à Grimaud, Grimaud
2008 A summer in Tegernsee, Tegernsee
2008 Shadow sculptures, Sternberg Lounge, Düsseldorf
2008 Shadow sculptures, Villa Aurelien, Fréjus
2008 Ceramics, Villa Domergue, Cannes
2009 Caribbean Style, Szczesny Factory, Berlin
2009 Garden show, Rechberghausen
2009 Shadows on the Biltmore, Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Miami
2010 Shadow sculptures, Beddington Fine Art, Bargemon
2010 Caribbean Dreams, KunstRaum Bernusstraße, Frankfurt
2010 La joie de vivre, Beddington Fine Art Gallery, Bargemon
2010 Caribbean Dreams, KunstRaum Bernusstraße, Frankfurt
2010 Szczesny Dairy – St. Tropez – New York – Mustique, 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, New York
2010 A summer in Saint-Tropez, Mediengruppe Pressedruck, Augsburg
2010 Saint-Tropez in Berlin, Bocca di Bacco, Berlin
2010 La joie de vivre, Klostergut Besseslich, Kunsthalle Koblenz, Koblenz
2010 Vis à vi, KunstRaum Bernusstrasse, Frankfurt am Main
2010 Shadows on the Biltmore Benefit Cocktail Reception, Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Miami
2010 Or et bleu, Frankfurter Kunstkabinett, Frankfurt
2010 Szczesny’s world, Peter’s friends Gallery, Palais-Royal, Paris
2012 Neuen Wilden Works from the 80s, 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, New York


Stefan Szczesny

March 18 – May 1, 2010

532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel presents Diary, an exhibit of mixed media work by Stefan Szczesny, renowned German painter and sculptor. The pieces on display, called “photo-paintings,” combine two related areas of the artist’s creative endeavor. Since 1985, Szczesny has been making images that integrate photos taken in a variety of settings with figure studies rendered in his characteristically expressive style. The result of the juxtaposition of realistic, photographic imagery with the abstract, painterly records of the artist’s hand, cause the viewer, at first glance, to pause—has Matisse returned to us, reincarnated as a graffiti artist? Far from it! The French artist’s influence as a draftsman is apparent in the work, but Szczesny’s clever extension of the figure into realistic, photographic space is unique—and surprising.