The end is my beginning. It's been ten years since I moved to Los Angeles, and only now am I becoming Californian. But my California is populated by shadows of Europe -- even if Novalis and Caspar David Friedrich are now sharing a bungalow in the hills with their contemporary popular culture counterparts. If Arte and Merv Griffin co-produced a reality TV show, it might go something like this.
A European interior, then, whose windows look out on the landscape of the Pacific coast. Over that landscape floats a romantic moon, but rather than illuminating Gothic ruins, it is embedded within the primary colors of Venice beachwear. The domestic life of romanticism in exile, the perfume of an approaching midlife crisis, a whiff of the sublime. The familiar intertwined with the unfamiliar, until one loses track of which is which. A sadness that lurks in the depths of any formulation laying claim to finality. An invitation to be enclosed within my mind, but without any expectation that you will find yourself, or me, there.
The German Romantics strove for an unmediated relationship with the infinite. But they provided me, at best, with a further medium through which mediation could occur. California, too, holds itself up as a land of unmediated relationships -- to oneself, to other persons, to nature, and indeed, to the infinite. This is the promise of meditation retreats and self-help gurus -- of natural men and millionaires -- a life unhindered by fear, a love that knows no panic of rejection. And yet, what is California but an engine of intervention -- a film or a Snapchat that leaves us as connected as a severed phone cord. No surprise, perhaps. As the Romantics themselves recognized, it may be that the closest we can come to immediate contact with the infinite is an indefinitely prolonged series of ironic reflections.
I've never identified with the autonomy essential to the classical myth of genius. My work has always been mediated by my relationships -- with other people and with their images. I compose and create through interaction with others -- with the actors, materials, and characters that populate my world. But at the same time, I cannot escape the cliché of the artist becoming one with the artwork -- a sense that only then does one truly deserve the title. Es gibt kein richtiges Leben im falschen/There is no right life in the false.
So the dumb wish remains -- to become one with the painting. A wish common to the cliffs of Rügen and Big Sur alike. Germany and California are both, in their own ways, lands of dumb wishes. Another reflection, then -- of both human finiteness and the wish for something more:
Gallery I. The domestic life of romanticism in exile (a plush carpet). A German Expressionist and a Venice beach towel agree: "If I were you, I'd rather be me."
Gallery II. Transition, a return to forever: "We are due for a transcendent moment." Cosmic happenings amid the California noir.
Gallery III. Suspended between sunrise and sunset, the sublime object of the midlife crisis. Eternal repetition breeds terror. Or is it the other way around? Tender moments and faux pas -- in other words, dialectics.
Gallery IV. We made our bed, but who will lie in it? What is left of a Salon des Refusés when the refusés refuse it? The world as will -- that is, a mania of representation. Amor Fati.
Friedrich Kunath was born in Chemnitz, Germany (1974) and lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited widely and has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including: Juckreiz, Sammlung Philara, Düsseldorf, Germany (2016); A Plan to Follow Summer Around the World, Centre d'art Contemporain d'Ivry - le Crédac, Ivry-sur-Seine, France (2014); Raymond Moody's Blues, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK (2013); Your Life is Not for You, Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany (2012); Lonely Are the Free, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, Germany (2011); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2010); Kunstsaele, Berlin (2010); 7 x 14, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2009); and Home Wasn't Built in a Day, Kunstverein Hannover, Germany (2009). His work is also featured in prominent public and private collections such as the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
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