Philipp Fürhofer. Walpurgisnacht

17 Feb 2018 – 7 Apr 2018

Galerie Judin

Berlin, Germany


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The 13 works that make up Philipp Fürhofer’s sec­ond exhi­bi­tion at Galerie Judin are illu­minated objects and assem­blages rich in drama, which combine two long-stand­ing themes in his art: landscape and the human body.


These atmo­spheric panoramas could have sprung from the stage sets designed by Fürhofer to the acclaim of opera-goers all over Europe; rhythmical light sequences form­ing chromatic spectacles that bathe the scenery in chang­ing moods, pierc­ing or marking it in surpris­ing ways. Meanwhile, painted con­tours of larger-than-life human bod­ies acquire striking form as they segue into unexpected mate­r­i­als; the identity of the char­ac­ters remains vague—a head can rarely be dis­cerned, a face never.

All the exhibits by Fürhofer (born in 1982) were made in 2017. In most of them, the two visual worlds come together, as in the work that gives the show its Witch Sab­bath name: Walpur­gisnacht II. When the light is off, a won­derfully picto­rial male torso fills the pic­ture space. Black cables wind­ing around the two sides of the box carry his dark chest hair into the third dimen­sion. As soon as the box lights up, the painted and sculp­tured hairs trans­mogrify into the branches of two tree clus­ters, one on each side. The body almost dis­ap­pears—and yet it does not merge with nature, for the painterly torso still shimmers through. By adjust­ing posi­tion, the viewer some­times loses sight of this illu­sion too, and then the coarse, even profane mate­r­i­al­ity of the work pre­vails. The body becomes a stage for a mys­tical landscape of desire—and breaks open a psy­cho­log­ical dimen­sion.

With these diffuse identi­ties and asso­ciated landscapes, Fürhofer cre­ates fig­ures we can identify with, allow­ing us to project per­sonal and social desires, rather like those fig­ures in Ger­man Romantic paint­ings that stand with their backs to us. They embody a yearn­ing, as valid then as it is now, for indi­vid­ual sen­sa­tion and the dis­so­lu­tion of per­sonal bound­ar­ies; yearn­ings of the kind thrown up by an indus­trial soci­ety, which is more than a mere pres­ence in Fürhofer’s works. Landscapes, espe­cially forests, as a pow­erful identity factor, are an emo­tional and intel­lectual sound­ing board—another phe­nomenon of cultural history that dates back to the nine­teenth century.

Despite these roots in art history, Fürhofer’s approach could hardly be more con­tem­po­rary, for these works read­ily reveal the secrets of their power: the switch boxes with pro­trud­ing cables on the floor flag up the con­trol mech­a­nism behind the machin­ery of illu­sion, the lamps are always vis­i­ble. Even the more banal compo­nents are always there to be seen. This by no means steals the magic from Fürhofer’s works. If any­thing, the artist and his art make us their accomplices. We wait patiently while the col­ored acrylic glass, light bulbs, mirrors and cables turn into a ris­ing sun (Tequila Sunrise). We search out the right angles and linger until we can grasp the more complex cycles in their entirety, trying to fig­ure out all those lev­els of mean­ing and ref­er­ences that trig­ger the switch. It is through this inter­ac­tion with the viewer that Fürhofer’s works fully emerge. Almost always we are reflected in the surfaces, lit­er­ally find­ing our­selves in the works. 

Fürhofer recently produced a sim­i­larly exc­it­ing dia­logue between work and viewer, enti­tled [Dis]connect, at the Schirn Kun­sthalle in Frankfurt. Coincid­ing with an exhi­bi­tion on the history of the dio­rama, he transformed the museum’s rotunda, insert­ing two reflec­tive ceil­ings and switch­ing the light to gen­er­ate two differ­ent spa­tial effects. Vis­itors either look up and see their own reflec­tion in a smooth mirrored foil, or find them­selves lost in an appar­ently end­less rep­e­ti­tion of the two upper sto­ries of the rotunda. Through this interplay, the view out­ward mutates into an inward gaze. A long­ing for infin­ity and intro­ver­sion—again, key ele­ments in Ger­man Romanticism—is echoed in many of the titles and almost always with a musical ref­er­ence (as in Wolfss­chlucht and Tristan).

How ver­sa­tile, profound and effec­tive Fürhofer’s reflec­tions on Ger­man cultural history are, can also be observed currently at the Kun­sthalle in Munich. For the show You are Faust: Goethe’s Drama in the Arts, he has designed a stage-like tour through the exhi­bi­tion, guid­ing vis­itors through responses to the Faust theme in music, art, lit­er­a­ture, and the­atre. It is no surprise that Philipp Fürhofer was assigned this task: he combines tra­di­tional visual narra­tives with a con­tem­po­rary, per­sonal artis­tic idiom, and plunges straight into a direct dia­logue with the viewer, transform­ing motifs from cultural history into spaces for atmo­spheric expe­r­i­ences that exude a power few can resist.

Exhibiting artists

Philipp Fürhofer


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