- Friedrich Kunath
PRESENCE AND HIDING PLACES
With delicate but insistent melancholy, Friedrich Kunath engages in the devising of memories before our gaze, -in deceptive realtime-, displacing the spectator from this now, the moment in which we look, to that later on, the exact instant in which only memory will abide. It is a rare bewitching that manages to have us dwell, standing in front of a painting, in that afterwards that belongs to us more privately than this today does. It leads the observer, seemingly sweetly and by the hand, onwards toward a distant time where the feelings that his sneakily charming style of painting offers us are transformed into something truly our own. There, in a memory that permeates us at ﬁrst glance, irony, sadness, an ungraspable peace, an elusive paradise, restlessness, fear, the solid breakdown of certainties will surge along as if borne on a miniature ﬂood.
I rely on Frank Sibley to remind us that all aesthetic judgments, when formulated in writing, are ultimately set down using non-aesthetic terms. Accepting this natural limitation, I now take up a second idea of Sibley’s in which he nevertheless admitted the role of direct personal experience vis-à-vis the aesthetic object. Only in this way can I allow myself to begin the task of trying to narrate in words the emotion of the former when faced with the latter, Kunath’s work, far removed from referential parameters such as post-romanticism, pop, cute, zany, interesting (with a nod to the formidable Sianne Ngai). I arrogantly confer upon myself the right to a nostalgia of my own, sensing that Friederich Kunath’s art extends an invitation to construct a personal landscape precisely to those who look at his gracefully hybrid paintings, as if bidding us to search out a place for our innermost selves in its spaces. Nooks, crannies and pathways, shelter, abandonment, escapes and encounters, presences and absences, intimate and individualized. Thus, his work strikes at the aftermath, not easy to do, in which we are irremediably trapped when contemplating it. I consider a gift, the exquisite paradox, that a work so close to the artist’s skin that it can sometimes seem subcutaneous or almost autistic can simultaneously achieve such a complete reworking of the capacity for recall among those who contemplate it. As if in its majestic timidity, (another paradox), it had lain a beartrap for the bare feet of our emotions. Without explicitly driving us in any speciﬁc direction, he nevertheless manages to ﬁnd a path towards our innermost cartography.
In his deployment of sunrises and sunsets punctuated by his languid dreamscapes, there is also something of a gallery of maps in which one may search for oneself, or perhaps, recognize oneself.
Something in Kunath’s accuracy and aim, hitting the bullseye of such an elusive target, reminds me of that poem by Peter Handke in which a child threw a stick as if it were a spear so that, ﬁrmly cleft in the tree of memory, it would vibrate eternally. A furious melancholy that the artist offers us with tiny steps as if ﬂeeing from something he nevertheless regards as inevitable, willfully toying with our perception of time and of our own condition, vulnerable to time’s whim. His unreal landscapes include a relentless clock, a land of legends whispered in our ear which, precisely because they are secret, strike us. At the limit of eeriness, then, in that future, has been placed the solace of something shared. One loses oneself placidly in his paintings while already feeling fretful at ﬁnding oneself hopelessly elsewhere. Wrapped in a charming “now you see me, now you don’t”, or a game of peek-a-boo, our whole life ebbs away. Something tells me that these paintings know it, and share this elusive truth with us, carefully, but also with cunning ill will.
Remembering E.E. Cummings, one might say that not even the rain has such small hands.
Friedrich Kunath (Chemnitz, Germany, 1974) utilizes a personal style of romantic conceptualism, layering poetic phrases with poignant, often melancholic imagery. The work embraces comedy and pathos, evoking universal feelings of love, hope, longing, and despair. Kunath’s personal journey from Germany to Los Angeles plays a key role in his work, incorporating German Romanticism and western popular culture, with still life, cartoon imagery, commercial illustration, nature photography and lyrical references.
The artist studied at the Braunschweig University of Arts, Braunschweig, Germany, and now lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
The ﬁrst major monograph devoted to Kunath’s life and work was published in 2018 by Rizzoli Electa, featuring contributions by James Elkins, James Frey, Ariana Reines, and John McEnroe.
Kunath has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including Coming Home Was As Beautiful As Going Away, KINDL, Berlin, Germany (2023); There Must Be A Spanish Word For This Feeling, CAC, Málaga, Spain (2023); Repair is the Dream of a Broken Thing pt. 1 & pt. 2, 313 Art Project, Seoul, South Korea (2022); Life is Short and Days are Long, AVLSKARL, Copenhagen, Denmark (2021); The Things I Notice Now, Travesia Cuatro Mexico City (2021); All Your Fears Trapped Inside, JTT, New York, USA (2019); Where is the Madness that You Promised Me, Tim van Laere Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium (2018); 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, CA (2010); Kunstsaele, Berlin, Germany (2010); 7 x 14, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2009); and Home Wasn’t Built in a Day, Kunstverein Hannover, Germany (2009).
His work has been featured in some group exhibitions such as Growing Out? Growing up? Contemporary Art Collecting in the Baltics, Zuzeum Art Center, Riga, Latvia (2022); Abrasive Paradise, Kunsthal KAdE, Netherlands (2022); Ariana Papademtropoulos. The Emerald Tablet, Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, USA (2021); 5,471 Miles, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, USA (2020); Alien Escape, 303 Gallery, New York, USA; ‘Artists à la one: Togeth’Her’, Monnaie de Paris, France; Weltschmerz, Kinman Gallery, London, Uk (2017); Fabriques du Sublime, Gallery Noisy-le-Sec, France (2005).
His work is also featured in prominent public and private collections such as the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Pinault Collection, Paris, France; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, among many more.
The artist lives and works in Los Angeles, US.