Nostalgic and melancholic, von Wulffen’s works are back-grounded by a sense of unease, with works often suggesting themselves as autobiographical, recording fear, sexual fantasy and emotional trauma. The artist makes distinct references to European painters of the 19th and 20th centuries, applying the brushwork or motifs of Alfred Kubin, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Cezanne or Franz Defregger.
Corrupting canonical genres by deliberately embracing clumsy derivatives, von Wulffen interrupts measures of ‘accomplished’ painting by purposely adopting what is in ‘bad taste’. While she makes use of the styles and techniques of amateur painters and the applied arts, the content and subjects of von Wulffen’s works suggest an innate affinity with ‘the outsider’ or marginalised figures.
For her commission at Studio Voltaire, von Wulffen (b. 1966, Germany) will present a significant new body of work that combines her interest in the confessional and the unconscious. In new paintings, von Wulffen has blended traditional figuration with dream-like scenarios that disconcert in their a-historic, misplaced sense of time. Differing styles of dress, location and painterly convention are folded in on each other in ludic juxtapositions. Found works by unknown artists are pasted directly onto canvases, combined with tromp l’oeil and heavy impasto, kitschy images of fruit bowls and kittens, or reproductions of pleasant farmsteads.
Significantly, von Wulffen also presents her most significant sculptural installation to-date. Her titular “Bimpfi” references a German-language children’s book in which the protagonist, an anthropomorphised mushroom, is unjustly shunned when accused of crimes he did not commit. Questions of guilt, estrangement and exclusion weave throughout the exhibition, but are particularly inscribed in an imposing painted sculpture formed, in part, from elements of a Catholic confessional. Though the confessional promises absolution in exchange for acts of penance, importantly for the artist, it also introduces the certainty of guilt early in life.
The enclosed isolation of the confessional is reiterated across the dark, rustic or domestic interiors of the von Wulffen’s paintings. Her works often disclose a simultaneously personal and generational experience of growing-up in post-war Germany, and explicitly, a climate of blame and repression. The exhibition repeatedly returns to depictions of childhood and children, but often pictures them as transgressive agents. They are painted in tears, raising their arms in pugilistic stances, dining with insects or transformed into gnome-like creatures – expelling suppressed anxieties in fantastical and grotesque forms.
Additionally, this exhibition launches a new monograph surveying von Wulffen’s practice, published by Studio Voltaire in partnership with Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich and Koenig Books. Encompassing nearly 20 years of the artist’s work the publication includes new essays by Bernhart Schwenk, Curator of Contemporary Art at Pinakothek der Moderne, writer Manfred Hermes and artist Amy Sillman.
This commission is generously supported by The Elephant Trust, Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, and The Amelie von Wulffen Supporters Circle.