The richly textured, seductive paintings of German artist Neo Rauch are marked by a “distinctive Pop-Surrealist-Social Realist style,” as described by The New York Times art critic Roberta Smith in 2002. Incorporating disjunctive references to disparate eras, techniques, and aesthetics, they evoke “avant-garde theater stage sets from an earlier time ... both buoyant and tamped down, comic and earnest.” In many of his compositions, human figures engaged in manual labor or indeterminable tasks work against backdrops of mundane architecture, industrial settings, or bizarre and often barren landscapes. Scale is frequently arbitrary and non-perspectival, which adds to an overall dreamlike atmosphere; spatial relationships seem to construct an imaginary realm all of its own, one which both defies logic and feels somehow familiar.
At the Well, produced to coincide with the 2014 exhibition of Rauch’s new works at David Zwirner in New York, brings together small and large format paintings that expand the artist’s unique iconography of eccentric figures, animals, and hybrids within vaguely familiar but imaginary settings. This oversized catalogue—designed in close collaboration with the artist—is anchored by sixteen stunning plates and numerous 1:1 details that bring to life, and give viewers intimate access to, these compelling compositions. Themes of rebirth and new beginnings abound: Rauch consistently creates characters who appear to be in the process of transformation, literally on the brink of renaissance. These figures, though squarely centered in his paintings, often have the appearance of being part of still lifes: collaged, anachronistic elements belonging to different time zones and eras offer a contemporary take on the storied tradition of visual and psychological pastiche.
At the Well features an illuminating essay by art historian and curator Sir Norman Rosenthal, who presents a careful reading of Rauch’s new work, including its relationship to fairy tales; the influence of the German Democratic Republic on his development as an artist in the 1980s; and the overarching sense of alienation that is present within his narratives. The book also includes a reprint of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Young Giant,” specifically chosen by Rosenthal to further expand his analysis.