“I don’t consider myself a colour painter” – Gergely Nagy talks to András Gál
Artportal 2013 08.27.

Monochrome, farbmalerei, radical painting. The trend to which András Gál feels he belongs to is called by different names. He makes powerful, concentrated works; they made some people downright upset, and his large yellow paintings even drew some political flack when the Universitas programme was attacked (Who’s Afraid of Yellow?, 2007). Though viewers tend to be arrested (bemused) by the intensity or concentrated nature of the colours, they are, oddly enough, not his interest. His work to date is summarized in a catalogue that will be released this September, and in which essays examine what is more important: the colour or the material?

G. N.: In one of the texts in the volume soon to be published, András Rényi claims that what you represent is a field of art that is not connected to constantly changing trends and new demands, nor does it answer the questions they pose. Is this an isolated field?

András Gál (A. G.): For an answer, we must consider, first, the genre, and second, the art scene in Hungary. If you walk into a leading museum in, say, Germany, you’ll find that what the Germans call farbmalerei begins with Mark Rothko in the fifties, and extends to, say, Frank Stella, or Robert Ryman. The Germans have acknowledged the whole thing, all but consider it their own, yet it is, in a certain sense, peripheral. Whereas you can’t say it’s not present the world over. On the other hand, from a historical perspective, as you go back as far as the 1920s, right up to Malevich, its trajectory predestines it to be a key to nonrepresentational art. There are monochrome phenomena that go beyond painting, like Olivier Mosset, who exhibits motorcycles together with the monochrome paintings. Which is to say it has varieties that reflect on installation or post-Duchamp art. Still, if we consider it a lonely, meditational form of painting, there are quite a few who are active in this world. It is an altogether different issue that the Hungarian scene has shown little interest in it. But then, this is relative, because during my career alone there have been four of five important exhibitions that were organized by us. Also, there are important works in Hungarian collections, as those of Vass or Antal, so it is possible to study the field in Hungary. All the same, this kind of painting still meets with some aversion sometimes.

G. N.: Do you have to explain every time what this is all about?

A. G.: You always need to go back to square one, although this is at least a genre where you can go back. And Gerhard Richter is not the only one you need to cite, even though he is universal, encompassing the whole spectrum, everything from colour painting through grey pictures to photo-paintings, and in this sense, we have all sprung from under his cloak. Recently I saw a film about him, made after his seventieth birthday, and indeed, all he does seems to rhyme with what we have tried to do in Hungary, whether you think of Attila Szűcs or myself. But this of course does not make us integrate into anything. But as far as this country, or East Europe, is concerned, this should be addressed by museums or collections, I think.

G. N.: Writings on your work make two kinds of arguments, which are also contending. One of them says you “put an end to colour,” the other claims this is not even a monochrome, but a very polychromatic painting. They discover the many colours in a single colour. Honestly, what is your relationship to colour?

A. G.: Once at a public discussion I said, for some reason, that Mark Rothko is not a monochrome painter. Later I myself gave some thought to what made me say this. Because there is for instance the Chapel in Houston, a late work by Rothko, and those are nothing but deep violet canvases; there is nothing there but deep violet canvases. The key issue is abstract expressionism. Because in abstract expressionism, artists get to apply the paint in the course of an action. Gerhard Richter is again a good example. Like all abstract expressionist painters, he starts by painting the surface very colourfully, which then turns quite monochrome as the spatula is used on the great many layers.

G. N.: Making the other colours disappear...

A. G.: That’s right. What makes this a key issue is that in radical painting (should I want to distinguish my work from abstract expressionism, although that’s where I started too) the mixed colour is applied to the canvas directly. There is a 20x20 inch canvas, Marcia Hafif mixes a colour, which then covers the surface, like rain, from the upper left corner to the lower right. “Is that the painting?”, we will ask in Eastern Europe. Is this really something with a radiant force, a distinct, sensitive quality? Herein lies, I think, the great difference between the western and the eastern attitude, because for example Olivier Mosset would say a painting is finished when it has been sold. So when he paints a surface with a roller, it is a complete painting. No questions asked. Claude Rutault mounts an insane number of yellow canvases, in all shapes and sizes, and arranges them in an installation, with the walls also painted. So you have, say, thirty canvases painted in homogeneous yellow, in a vast exhibition hall, propped up against the walls, which are also painted yellow. When at the beginning of my career I first saw one of Alan Charlton’s paintings in Hamburg, a small, thickly woven grey canvas, coated very subtly with acrylic, the edges also covered—I just stood there entranced. It was so beautiful it left me speechless. All of which relies on a massive experience, thirty years of work. Which is what you realize when you try to do it yourself. Because the first time you do it, it immediately becomes obvious. (Dorrie + Priess, Hamburg with Lesley Foxcroft and Jürgen Albrecht)

G. N.: What does?

A. G.: The fact that it doesn’t work out.

N. G.: But what is it that doesn’t work out?

A. G.: For instance, it isn’t “all over,” the entire surface is not of the same intensity, the paint is not uniformly thick.

G. N.: You have avoided the question to a certain extent, so let me ask you again, are you interested in colour or not?

A. G.: Right, sorry. The colourlessness you referred to has to do with what I have just said about grey. At the beginning of my career, having been exposed to Alan Charlton, all I could think of was earth colours and grey. When I was at the academy, I started to make grey paintings. Once I even wrote a text about how there are few places where there are as many sorts of grey as in Budapest, and if you could make a colour scale of all the dirty greys you would find it is immensely colourful.

G. N.: We could read the difference between the greys.

A. G.: I probably also had an eye for it. Regardless, I was captivated by matter painting. Another great experience of this kind was a painting by Otto Muehl, which I saw at an exhibition curated by Katalin Néray. He had a period when he applied oil paint very thickly, all over the place, and in time the whole would become monochrome. Muehl’s painting had three horizontal wipes; he was in ecstasy, and caught sight of the bathing sponge in the bathroom, so he picked it up and started to rub the canvas with it. So that was what made it like that. I was greatly impressed by that. There is a landscape-format painting with this swipe, and yet the whole thing is very compact, painterly yet radically monochrome. The abstract expressionist in me overrode the conceptualist, saying you need to pursue the sensual, but if you do that than at least the colour should be restrained. I made a great many grey paintings. And then came the can colours—which may not  be obvious for others, or may seem an interruption. Because if you can buy five kilos of red paint in the DIY store, it’s the same as if it were grey. Where’s the difference?

G. N.: Is it the same for the viewer?

A. G.: I was interested in the movement, in how the material moved on the canvas. Of course, once you have finished the works and there is a large exhibition of your red paintings, you come to acknowledge all the differences there are. I don’t know if this answers the question of colour versus no colour, or the question of colourlessness, but for me, the way from colourlessness to colour did lead through questions of facture. I don’t consider myself a colour painter.

G. N.: You mentioned meditativeness. How does the decidedly practical, technical sequence of tasks that you go through meet with meditation? Could you tell about the process of making a painting?

A. G.: The first issue is that you need to mount the canvas. The point of radical painting is an interest in, and an analysis of, the support and what it supports. It isn’t irrelevant, you could use a million kinds of support. Jason Martin uses aluminium sheets, someone else would use wooden panels, another one I don’t know what. Thin wooden panels, thick wooden panels, thick canvases, thin canvases. Marioni wants to ensure the gravitation of the paint is optically more emphatic, so the stretcher is narrower towards the base, and so enters the shaped canvas. I experimented a lot with shaped canvases, and there was a time when using them was downright liberating. Now I only make square-shaped paintings: eventually you cannot help arriving at the point where you stop messing around and make square-shaped paintings, because they are the ones that can provide the most concentrated experience. All else derails you: if something is, say, horizontal, it is already a landscape experience. So, you mount the canvas, and then prime it several times. You hang it on the wall. I paint with the canvas on the wall, which is one position. Not on the ground, but on the wall, because the gallery is a given, and I have to model that. It has been a long time since I last left the edges uncovered: now I make objects, matter objects, and cover the edges. There’s no aesthetic motive to it, you simply have to cover the surface you have. I can tell more or less how much material I’ll need. Inch by inch, I fill the surface with the help of a painting knife, and then work on it with a sponge roll, ruffling the surface. I begin to smooth it with large spatulas, and this is where the game starts, as you see how the material is arranged and structured, from the top towards the bottom, from left to right. You start to command the surface, which slowly gets filled, you reach fine tremors, fine small details, there are now small crevices, cracks, which you might consider errors, there are now errors in the neutral surfaces. These produce changes in the rhythm. After so many years I think I know how it all goes. This is what I do.

G. N.: Is this enjoyable work?

A. G.: Absolutely. It must seem strange for someone who hasn’t got involved in it with this intensity. But you can spend a life doing it. This is a whole universe. For me.

G. N.: Can you imagine starting to do something else one day? Or do you see its prospects promising?

A. G.: I can’t imagine doing something else. This is important, because this was a strategic decision, and it wasn’t conscious. It was obvious that it would not be easy to find acceptance for it in this country. Still, it is not an untravelled road, and it is a canonized model for art. It is a way of conduct, building an oeuvre, and at this point in time I cannot imagine myself changing this strategy.



A little can be just as enjoyable as a lot-and vice versa!
On the pretext of the work of András Gál

The possible forms of joy are endless.One of the means of the various infinities-moreover a pastime favoured by many is to put paint,as a plastic material,on canvas using a paintbrush,knife or other tools.That’s why painting will never lose its relevance and never become meaningless.Because man’s finger wants to touch,his hands wants to gesture,his eyes want to see and his brain wants to invent.A painter is a person whose fingers-hands-eyes-brain work inseparably in a never-ending,eternally mysterious organic relationship.

They are operated by the spirit,which would like to be free,emotion lifts them,the soul extracts material from itself,taking the biological gesture out of the realm of biology,,making the whole splattering mess into a picture,a spectacle,a vision-something immaterial.Inasmuch as the painter is not just a painter,but an artist, a new reality is born.We call this type of reality visual reality.

It’s been called integrated or coordinated for a feww decades now,since János Neumann and Jean Piaget’s research.It’s the perpetuum mobile.It’s It exists after all!And its name:Painter.

Naturally,visual reality is infinite.If we leave off the word-ending,we’re left with real,which is a collective concept even in the visual sence.However,people are not like old Immanuel Kant,whose favorite was the”real for its own sake”.People prefer things that are for their sake to things that are for its owen sake.Their favorite is what from the standpoint of certain painters is my favorite,the thing that is for my sake.I believe this is the only sane explanation(albeit subject to analysis an infinitum) for why one person is satisfied with very little while another requires a lot.Or why someone can feel that extremely much is not enough,and spend all their time and energy making the extremely much even more.Within the group who feel that extremely much is not enough,and spend all their time and energy making the extremely much even more.Within the group who feel little is infinitely much,one little sub-group is formed by monochrome painters.Whithin the narrow scale/range of one color,they feel the distinctions and subtle variations of the infinite.They have a special sensitivity.

András Gál is still young,nevertheles he has already undergone a relatively long development process. In his first years at college he had already reached the reduced palette,which I could formulate as relatively polychromatic monochromaticity.Experimenting further,he archieved pure monochromaticity,then stepped aveb beyond that-possionately.

His ancestor is the Belgian Victor Servranckx,who painted 20th century Western culture’s first monochrome painting,an almost square,rather small lightmedium gray canvas done in 1924.The work can be found in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart.It’s striking that the picture is signed in red printed letters in the lower right-hand corner.This appears to contradict the endeavor toward monochromaticity,though in my eyes it subtracts nothing from the originality of the intention.

Somewhat earlier,in 1921 Rodchenko painted three monochromes,red,yellow and blue and announced he had reached the end of painting,the death of the genre.The three linked canvasses can be found in the Rodchenko-Stepanova archive in Moscow.In 1890,József Rippl-Rónai said a painting should be one color,black,gray,one color or another-then proceeded with his black paintings.Fresco painters from earlier centuries painted gray figures between colored frescoes to separate them:the name of the genre is grisaille or camaieu in applied arts.We find gray panels on coloured gothic winged altars.Always,in every epoch,people have enjoyed not just the monochromatic,but gray,and black and white too.Thus whether it was admitted, or not,almost everyone in every era was simultaneously excited by monochromaticity and polichromaticity.

Budapest, 09.12.1996
Attila Kovács

Translated by Péter Reich


It is quite probable that András Gál had every reason in the world to try to take the wind out of the critics’sail well in advance through the particular design of his invitation card announcing his new exhibition in Dunaújváros.He set the tone for his critics by publishing two caricatures made in 1946 by Ad Reinhardt,one of the great  American masters of the abstract,or even monochrome art.
This gesture reminds me  of an exhibition held in a Great Britain sometimes int the 1970s,provocatively entitled”A Child of Six Can Do It”.In an ironic form,the title referred to the same,seemingly irreconcilable conflict,i.e.the conceptual difference between the expectations of art and the audience.
As an „incorrigible”partisan of monochrome painting,Gál makes no bones about his being an abstract art form,dissuading anyone from looking for narrative clues.
The artist probably chose an unfashionable path when he committed himself to monochrome painting,an art for traditionally not nearly as well founded in Hungary as geometric abstract,for example.Working in the 1990s he must have felt that he was doing something utterly outmoded,which was,of course,very far from the truth.
Andras Gál’s painting,along with the problems of monochrome,throws up a surprisingly large number of relevant questions from the viewpoint of the history of modern painting.These questions range from the relationship between the monochrome and the traditions of classical Avant-garde(including the Russian Avant-garde and the American and European abstract art after the war),through the various theories of colours(from Plato to St.Thomas of Aquinas,and from Goethe to Johannes Itten),to the hierarchy of colours,even including the meanings associated with the various colours,above else  the problems of trascendence-only to name a few the possible subjects.
We fully appreciate the meaning of the gold colour both in mediaeval tableau painting and in Russian icon painting.We also know that red signified beauty (Goethe himself placed it at the top of the hierarchy of colours),while blue suggested irrationality(this colour came to enjoy special status in modern art through Yves Klein’s works).We also know what role the colour green,with its association  with nature,played in mediaeval art(relatively lesser importance is attached to it in monochrome),while white symbolised light (beside Malevich,we should only mention here the Dutch Schoonhoven,the Italian Lucio Fontana,the German Gruppe Zero and Tamás Soós ,who lately also works in white).Then there is the neutral hue of gray(only one name should suffice here:Gerhard  Richter)and finally black,which is not the negation of colour,but quite the opposite:its substance(only three names Malevich-Soulages-Serra).
It is also worth contemplating about the interconnection between monochrome and minimal art,monochrome and the tendencias of reductivism.
It is evident that as soon as we accept the position of abstract artist,in our case a painter,we can proceed in the direction of numerous exciting theoretical or aesthetic areas.
It the lete 1960s,when  Barnett Newman painted his legendary work”Who is Afraid of Red,Yellow,and Blue,he made unmistakable references to the heritage of the Russian Avant-garde,to Malevich’s suprematist compositions from 1917 and to Rodchenko’s triptych of red,yellow and blue from 1921.Dezső Korniss followed suit in Hungary in the late 1950s,and Stazewsky did the same in Poland.
In American art this from of artistic expression became the metaphor of freedom and unlimited opportunities.Likewise,the nouveau réalism in France conceived it as the expression of individual freedom without self-cencorship by,while in East and Central Europe it became the instrument of moral resistance and survival.
The two most important,and often overlapping,abstract tendencies in American art,abstract expressionism and action painting,along with colour-field ,hard edge,shaped canvas and combined painting(a pop-art invention primarily used by Rauschenberg through linking elements of different genres)created a basis that can convey modern visual content even in the 1990s.
At the College of Art András Gál switched to a different class on the advice of his teacher and elder collegaue Zsigmond Károlyi.Despite Ad Reinhardt’s view,whereby”monochrome was the modern era’s academism”,he failed to become an „academic” painter,although I suspect that Ad Reihardt,along with Zsigmond Károlyi who quoted him,used the word not as synonym for something outmoded but as an expression to suggest professional training.
Instead of the industrial-minimalism school,Gál chose a rather more difficult and more personal,more lyrical and more mystical direction.
His colour scheme-subdued hues of gray,brown and lilac-testifies for considerable self-constraint ont he artist’s part.At the most,there is the slight cropping of the corners,an appliqued rectangle here and the,or the linking of the pictorial elements to suggest his move int he direction of shaped canvas,of the object art.He is equally fond of the broad horizontal format and the dynamic vertical diptych.
His exhibition in Székesfehérvár demonstrates the process of the past few years.
The art historian can give no better advice to András Gál than to urge him to stand by his choice and monochrome,because in his case this is more than a fleeting affair:it is a serious aesthetic-theoretical program.
Katalin Néray


Colour and matter
(Notes on András Gál’s works)

“The evolution of art is something internal,
something philosophical and is not
a visual phenomenon.”
Lucio Fontana

One of Gál’s early works (Monstrum etalon [Monster Standard] 1998) is, I think, the first “draft” of the dialogue he engaged in with monochrome painting. The work no doubt refers to the duality wherein a commonly accepted quality of a picture is that it is surrounded by a frame, while what is inside the frame is itself the picture of the represented, the image. What makes Gál’s work surprising is that what is inside the frame, the traditionally visual element, non-represents anything. Monochrome painting is often called non-objective or non-representational painting, and it can certainly be considered their most radical manifestation. The work can be said to be ironically reminding its viewer that what is inside the frame becomes the standard (i.e. the unit of measure) for what cannot be framed, and what is precisely that, immeasurable, as the monster is the manifestation of the formless, the extra-ordinary, or of the superhuman, divine sign which cannot assume a material form. Whichever the case may be, the monster is the manifestation of something that makes one realize that what is represented does not assume a form. Or perhaps it does, as after all the picture arranges what is unregulable, what cannot be measured with a standard, into a regular form. The picture can be looked upon as the standardised representation of the non-representational picture, an attempt which refers, exactly via the frame, to its own circumscribed being, or non-being. The monster is the framed smallness of monstrous and overwhelming greatness, its own ironic nihilation, the representation of what we find bearable, a standard adopted from bridled greatness.
The artist, it seemed in the light of the first monochrome and non-objective experiments, was to “lead art to supremacy, [was] not to be satisfied with the art of giving back phenomena.” What informed Malevich’s radical turn was the surplus and advantage of art, or rather, its overwhelming power to open the way for painterly representation to objectlessness, to a liberated nothing, to a state that does not call for recognition, does not allow cognizance, not even a rhythmic arrangement of the objectless that would result in harmony.
Gál’s picture does not represent anything, gives back nothing, even though it makes as if that inside the frame were the picture of something – if it is, it is the picture of something that in itself never represents anything, it is something that does not signify, or stand in place of, something else… It is itself, as an impossible subject of painting.
It was apropos of this monster that never assumes the recognizable form of an object that Heidegger wrote, in The Origin of the Work of Art, that we remember a work of art and consequently become privy to a knowledge if, and only if, we face the monstrosity (“das Ungeheure”) of the truth taking place in the work, if we can bear standing before it. A work of art is not the representation of objects in the world, but an opportunity to see through, and in, it what is not obvious, what cannot be seen in the usual way, what makes us acknowledge the notness of the very thing that so much appears to be. Or as Maurice Merleau-Ponty would put it later in his Working Notes for The Visible and the Invisible: “The invisible is present, yet it need not be an object, the invisible is pure transcendence / without the ontic mask.”
Since its very inception (Malevich, Rodchenko), and including its later masters (Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, etc.), monochrome painting has been reductive, attempting to represent the non-imitative and inimitable by doing away with the merely objective, by baring and unmasking the ontic. This is why I think Newman was right to say that in Mondrian geometry devours metaphysics. Perhaps this is the white state Malevich was after, the ultimate intensity of what appears – but which shows nothing in its thingness – a conflict of forces in which the elements inspiring the viewer concentrate in a point, make, as it were, visible the invisible. What the inspiration is for is beyond the merely identifiable, in that the monochrome is also the summation of visual identity. A monochrome painter puts colour in its due rank. The question, perhaps the most important question, is whether colour is not thus burdened with meanings which – as Wittgenstein pointed out – it cannot convey, because we do not have just one concept of the equality of colours, but several concepts related to each other. Monochrome painting is hardly more comprehensible if we invest colours with symbolic meanings, and consider it a painterly idiom which is expressive even when it lacks a subject. Goethe already mentioned the violent abstraction (eine gewaltsame Abstraktion) of the reductive use of colours, and monochrome painting, it seems to me, has to find its position between these two points. It cannot believe colour conveys meaning in itself, just as it cannot seek refuge in colour-abstraction and its monumental or august effect. Donald Kuspit establishes an interesting correspondence between minimalism and the reductionism of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. He thinks Wittgenstein’s analysis does away with the mystery of philosophical abstraction by pointing out its being linguistically determined, while minimalism seems to disperse the mystery of subjectless art by pointing out its being nothing but experimentation with the power of pure perception. If this is true of the early Wittgenstein and the early minimalist attempts, what I think matters is that the philosopher once believed in the reality-making, visual quality of sensible statements, in that whatever is logically possible is possible in reality. Pure perception as a unit of data does not guarantee that it is always grasped the same way; as the late Wittgenstein would point out ingeniously, even the accuracy of usage is no guide to the attribution of meaning. As he claims in his remarks on colours: “It would nevertheless be a mistake to say ‘Look at the colours in nature, and you will see this is so.’ Because nothing will be revealed about the concept of colours through observation.” Minimalism uses the allegoric and symbolic language of colour, as well as the language overused during the practice of establishing equivalence with the physical world, so as to make “statements” which indicate it still means something.
Colours in András Gál’s paintings do not impart meaning in order to achieve any kind of absolute unity beyond the pictures, do not seek augustness; their use runs from their application for the sake of homogeneity or unity through the dichotomy of colours to peculiar embodiments. For this, he has to go beyond the ironic reduction of the visual, to a use of colour which has none of the underpinnings of the traditional colour idiom – or even of the visual tradition of minimalism. Of course, Gottfried Boehm’s insight applies to him as well, namely that it is impossible to become completely independent of the two extremes that define the realm of monochrome painting today: the early abstract-formal compositions and the elementary/august self-sufficiency of the colour. “The picture’s own value, the self-reference of the iconic system will no doubt never become so independent as to allow its power of reference to completely disappear. The absolute pictures of modernity (Malevich’s Black Square or Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings) remain metaphors of reality, pictures among the pictures, even though they were meant at the time to be pictures after which no pictures could be painted.” The idea of the ultimate, or rather, last, picture also indicates the movement of the picture, its stepping beyond its own limits, its transcending the frame. Peter Weibel distinguishes three stations of this transcendence in modern painting: in Impressionism and Expressionism colour as a painterly medium becomes responsible for form; in the second phase (Suprematism and monochrome painting) colour becomes independent, the local colour, the object-making activity of the place value is eliminated so that colour can attain an absolute status; and lastly, colours/paints are substituted by other materials. Like Boehm, Weibel too detects an iconoclastic tendency in modern art.
András Gál’s recent work – the Aniconic Paintings and the Flesh Paintings (2001) – reveals this very action and reaction, enabling the picture to retain its creative power by destructing it and, at the same time, setting it free from the illusionism always offering itself, or occurring, in the picture through perceptive singularity. Gál not only allows the repeated embodiment of the colour, a kind of colour-materiality, or the brushwork to create translucence and forms, but makes continuous use of the effect of the shaped canvas. The experience of movement “imitating” fracture, arranging counterparts, contrasts, making the limited limitless, is constantly present in his works. “Aniconic” refers to the precarious condition wherein what is seen is not the equivalent of objects or reality, but refers, thanks solely to the invested iconoclastic energy, to itself as a picture.
This is what Heidegger in a conversation called Ent-hinderung, an elementary movement which brings to surface, in the very thing to appear, against the limited and restricted object-adequate perception, the nihilating movement, thanks to which it can still be something. Without ties and restrictions, the iconoclastic-aniconic mode of painting is on the way towards what Heidegger’s partner in the dialogue, Hisamatsu calls beauty without form and structure, and is at the same time the nihilating movement of nothing, the potential of the picture to stay within this motion. This nihil is not negation but the non-being of that which appears to be something but is not, the iconoclastic energy thanks to which the picture does not close on itself, but keeps nihilating itself as something thus revealed. Danto refers to the same notness in his review of Ad Reinhardt’s exhibition, as well as to the elementary effect of the picture continuously referring to what is beyond that which merely appears: “The work is as revealing for what it does not show – perhaps a subconscious nihilation – as for what it does.”
Though monochrome is usually mono-tone, every picture is at the same time more than merely visible. With his recent flesh-pictures, Gál may have turned to that tradition of the monochrome which Serra also tried, where what is revealed is the elementary energy of the corporeal as it points towards what is beyond the picture. Phil Sims, with whom Gál exhibited in New York, also gave in to the materiality of the canvas in his latest pictures, revealing and holding up the painting in the making; in his pictures the unpainted strip of canvas provides an even starker contrast between the colour (red) and the unpainted, the covered support and the canvas. While dematerializing and concurrently denaturalizing colour, monochrome painting often invests the picture plane with a plastic materiality which produces and allows the appearance of space. This is how it reveals the not very obvious rule according to which the work is, as “there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing” (B. Newman).

Béla Bacsó

[1] “Es ist die Sache des Künstlers, die Kunst zu ihrer Suprematie zu führen und nicht zur ‘Kunst’ der Wiedergabe von Erscheinungen.” Kasimir Malewitsch: Suprematismus – Die gegenstandlose Welt. W. Haftmann DuMont, 1962, p. 215.
[2] “Darum sehe ich die Malerei oder die Kunst überhaupt als den ersten Schritt auf dem Wege zum gegenstandslosen Suprematismus, zu der Welt als Gegenstandslosigkeit, zum befreiten Nichts, an, auf dem Wege zu einem Zustand, in dem es nichts Erkennbares, ja nicht einmal den gegenstandslosen Rhythmus mehr gibt. Auch der Rhythmus, als einfaches Auf und Ab, ist schon eine Begrenzung der harmonisierten Vollendung.” Ibid, p. 190.
[3] “Bewahrung des Werkes ist als Wissen die nüchterne Inständigkeit im Ungeheuren der im Werk geschehenden Wahrheit.” Martin Heidegger: “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes” (1936). In: Holzwege. Klostermann, 1980. p. 54.
[4] “Das Unsichtbare ist da, ohne Objekt zu sein, es ist die reine Transzendenz / ohne ontische Maske.” M. Merleau-Ponty: Das Sichtbare und das Unsichtbare. Edited by C. Lefort, translated by R. Giuliani and B. Waldenfels. Fink Verlag, 1986, p. 290.
[5] “Bei Mondrian verschlang die Geometrie die Metaphysik.” M. Imdahl quotes Barnett Newman’s “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” in his Zur Kunst der Moderne. Suhrkamp, 1996, p. 249.
[6] “Die Schwierigkeiten, denen wir beim Nachdenken über das Wesen der Farben begegnen (mit denen sich Goethe durch die Farbenlehre auseinandersetzen wollte), liegen schon darin beschlossen, dass wir nicht nur einen Begriff der Farbengleichheit haben, sondern deren mehrere, miteinander verwandte.” Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Bemerkungen über die Farben” (Remarks on Colour). In: Über Gewißheit, Suhrkamp, 1999, p. 91; p. 251 ff.
[7] Cf. J. W. Goethe: Zur Farbenlehre. http://www.farben-welten.de/farbenlehre, par. 862.
[8] Cf. Donald B. Kuspit: “Wittgesteinian Aspects of Minimal Art.” In: The Critic is Artist: The Intentionality of Art, UMI Research Press, Ann Arbour, Michigan, 1984, pp. 243-252.
[9] Cf. G.H. von Wright: Wittgenstein, Suhrkamp, 1986, p. 195.
[10] “Es wäre aber auch falsch zu sagen ’Schau Dir die Farben nur in der Natur an, und Du wirst sehen, daß es so ist.’ Denn über die Begriffe der Farben wird man durch Schauen nicht belehrt.” Wittgenstein, op. cit., p. 28.
[11] “Die Eigenwert des Bildes, die Selbstreferenz des ikonischen Systems wird sich andererseits nie so weit verselbständigen dürfen, daß seine Verweiskraft völlig abstirbt. Auch die absoluten Bilder der Moderne (in der Art von Malevitsch Schwarzem Quadrat oder Ad Reinhardts black paintings) bleiben Metaphern von Realität, sie bleiben Bilder unter Bildern, auch dann, wenn sie als die letzten Bilder gemeint sind, die man malen kann.” Gottfried Boehm: “Die Lehre des Bilderverbotes.” In: B. Recki, L. Wiesing Fink (eds.): Bild und Reflexion: Paradigmen und Perspektiven gegenwärtiger Ästhetik. 1997, p. 301.
[12] P. Weibel: “Das Ende für das ‘Ende der Kunst’?” http://hosting.zkm.de/icon.
[13] Martin Heidegger: “Die Kunst und das Denken” (1958). In.: Reden und andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges. ed. H. Heidegger Klostermann, 2000, p. 552 ff.
[14] A. C. Danto: “Ad Reinhardt.” The Nation, 26 August 1991. Reprinted in Embodied Meanings. Critical Essays. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994, p. 207.
[15] Seeing Red. Hunter College Art Galeries, International Exhibition of Nonobjective Painting. New York City 12 March – 26 April 2003.


Ernst Museum, Budapest, 12. September 2008

Herr Job und ich freuen uns sehr, zur Eröffnung dieser großen Übersichtsausstellung über das Werk von András Gál eingeladen worden zu sein. Insofern spreche ich hier heute sowohl als Kunsthistorikerin, als auch als Galeristin.
Wir führen in Mainz eine noch traditionell arbeitende Programmgalerie für zeitgenössische,
nicht-figurative Kunst, zu deren Schwerpunkt die Farbmalerei gehört und somit für uns die Vertretung jener Maler, die wie András Gál in der Tradition des sogenannten colorfield- oder radical painting stehen. Diese englischen Begriffe, die sich im Fachbereich durchgesetzt haben, fokussieren jedoch fälschlicherweise viel zu stark und undifferenziert die amerikanische Farbmalerei und die amerikanischen Weiterentwicklungen des Abstrakten Expressionismus.
Aber als Besucher dieses Hauses wird den meisten von Ihnen sicherlich der historische Ablauf, die Geschichte und Entwicklung der abstrakten und monochromen Malerei gegenwärtig sein, insofern möchte ich an dieser Stelle auch nur mit einigen Namen die ursprünglich europäisch-russischen Wurzeln dieser Kunst in Erinnerung rufen:
Kasimir Malewitsch, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Alexander Rodtschenko, Victor Servranckx oder auch Wladislaw Strzeminski (der übrigens mit seinen sogenannten „unistischen Bildern“ aus den 30er-Jahren das „All-Over“ von Jackson Pollock lange vorwegnahm); mit ihrer Malerei setzte bereits in den 20er-Jahren der Verzicht auf die abbildende Gegenständlichkeit ein, die Farbe selbst wurde zum Gegenstand und Thema des Bildes. D.h. der Grad der Abstraktion stieg an, bis es sich nicht mehr um eine Abstraktion von etwas handelte, sondern konkretisierte auf die Materialität der Farbe selbst. Für die damalige Malerei kulminierte diese Entwicklung in den bekannten “Weiß in Weiß -” oder “Schwarz in Schwarz - Bildern”; die Bildaussage, die Intention des Gemäldes, fiel erstmals mit dem “Gemälde/ Gemalten an sich” zusammen.
Zur nachfolgenden Generation, zur mittleren oder zweiten Generation dieser Farbmaler sind beispielsweise Ulrich Erben, Bruno Erdmann, Rupprecht Geiger, Raimund Girke, Gotthard Graubner, Marcia Hafif, Attila Kovács, Rolf Rose oder Günther Ücker zu nennen, zur jüngeren der zeitgenössischen monochromen Maler Stephan Baumkötter, Seán Shanahan, Peter Tollens, Dieter Villinger – und natürlich András Gál.
Vorzustellen brauche ich ihn Ihnen wohl kaum, daher möchte ich auch direkt auf seine Arbeit und diese umfangreiche Ausstellung mit Werken aus fast anderthalb Jahrzehnten zu sprechen kommen.
Diese Arbeiten, bei denen er die Ölfarbe mit Pinsel, Rolle, Spachtel und Malermesser auf die Leinwand aufträgt bzw. ihr Struktur gibt, entstehen in Schichten durch wiederholtes Procedere. Er selbst gesteht, daß er sich dabei häufig vorkomme wie Sisyphos, also wie jene mythologische Figur, deren absurdes und sinnlos erscheinendes Tun nie einer Selbstverwirklichung diente, sondern ein Ausdruck von Sehnsucht und Sinnsuche war.
Damit rekurriert Gál natürlich auf die Interpretation Camus‘ und gab dieser Ausstellung sicherlich nicht zufällig den Titel „Die Grenze der Malerei“.
Ob intendiert oder nicht, es scheint mir doch ein Beleg dafür, dass sich auch die jüngere Generation der monochromen Maler nach wie vor mit dem Zusammenbruch der Moderne konfrontiert sieht, womit in den 60er-Jahren jene Selbstanalyse und Debatte zwischen Künstlern und Kunstkritikern gemeint war, die den Prozeß der reduzierten Malerei, insbesondere in den USA, begleitet hat. Clement Greenberg’s derzeitige Maxime besagte:
„Die Kunst schließt das Unnötige aus sich aus.“ (1)
Nun ist ein jeweiliger Bildbegriff immer auch Teil des gesamten Epochenbewußtseins und
so standen all diese kunsttheoretischen Erörterungen natürlich im Zusammenhang mit der damaligen Aktualität der Existenzphilosophie von Kierkegard, Sartre und Camus.
Gleichwohl und, in gewisser Weise dem Diskurs zum Trotze, gaben die monochromen Maler zwar Antworten auf diese bekannte Debatte, die sogenannte Modernismus-Debatte, bleiben ihr jedoch schon lange nicht mehr kategorisch verhaftet und lassen sich nicht über die Tendenz zur Minimalisierung bis hin zur Verweigerung von Malerei treiben. „Grenze“ steht hier nicht für „Ende“, im Gegenteil: Es geht allein um Farbe, Farbwirkung, Farbe und Licht, Farbmaterialität und den Malprozeß. Es geht um die Aussagemöglichkeit der Malerei
und um Selbstbezüglichkeit im Sinne Wittgensteins. So verleitet der Ausstellungstitel hier
zu einer Abwandlung jenes bekannten Ausspruchs in: „Die Grenzen meiner Malerei bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.“
András Gál selbst sagt zum Herstellungsprozeß und den Aussagemöglichkeiten seiner monochromen Arbeiten: „Ich sehe meine Bilder noch heute nicht als Farb-Energie-Felder an, viel mehr als emotionell interpretierbare Farbenstrukturen, als Material der Farbe, die kalt und nass ist. Resignation, Überfluten, Ausströmen, Durchdringen, Spiel mit dem Unaussprechbaren – es sind alles Begriffe, die bei mir von höchster Wichtigkeit sind. Das Pigment ist von zweitem Rang...“
Zum einen muß ich bei diesen Worten auch an frühe Strukturbilder von Günther Ücker denken, mit dick aufgetragener Farbe in Schwarz, Weiss oder den namentlichen „Drecktönen“ und an seine „Fingerbilder“. Ücker sprach von „das Auge überspielenden“ Arbeiten (2), ihm ging es ebenfalls um die Haptik der Bildoberfläche und das manuelle Verhältnis zu seiner Kunst. Zum anderen erinnert es mich an eine informelle Vorgehensweise, bei der der Widerstand des Materials das Bild zumindest mitformt. Es ist ein Prozeß, der teilweise sichtbar bleibt, teils durch Verdichtung, durch Wiederholung, durch Eingriffe/ Einschnitte mit dem Messer, bis hin bei früheren Arbeiten zur Thematisierung von Abwesenheit durch das shaped canvas - Prinzip.
Wobei bei András Gál ein spielerischer Umgang mit dem Dagewesenen oder Vorgefundenen zu beobachten ist. Dies gilt sowohl für seine shaped canvases als auch bei seinen Anleihen aus dem readymade. Neben der Struktur und dem Format ist die Beziehung des Situativen ein wichtiger Aspekt seiner Arbeit. Hier im Raum sehen Sie die großen orange farbenen Leinwände, bei denen die oberen auf die unteren aufgestellt oder auf Holzleisten gestellt sind. Er möchte damit den Ateliercharakter, das Bezugnehmen der Arbeiten aufeinander wie in einem dicht gedrängten Lager veranschaulichen. Es geht um ganz bodenständige (im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes) Beziehungen und Elemente der Malerei, ganz im Sinne des Manifest-artigen Katalogtextes von Joseph Marioni und Günther Umberg, „Outside the Cartouche“, in dem es beispielsweise heißt: „Beim radikalen Gemälde richtet sich die ganze Aufmerksamkeit auf die innere strukturelle Beziehung zwischen Farbmasse und Träger. Die Struktur des Trägers hat Gegenstandscharakter, der spezifische Zweck des Trägers besteht darin, daß die Farbmasse auf ihn aufgetragen wird. Farbmasse und Träger gehorchen beide ihrer eigenen materiellen Struktur des (Farb-)Bildes in der Erfahrung.“ (3)
Auf jeden Fall gehört auch Gál einer Malergeneration an, für die die Themen der Kunst der Nachkriegszeit längst alle formuliert sind; auf sie kann zurückgegriffen werden, oder sie können angezweifelt oder gar übersprungen werden bis hin zur Intention des klassischen Tafelbildes. Es handelt sich für diese Maler nicht darum, neue Themen zu finden, Neues zu Erfinden, soweit es das überhaupt gibt, sondern um malerische Intentionen, die noch weit über die Romantik hinaus bis in die Umbruchphase der Renaissance zurück reichen. Dieses Aufspüren, dieses gefühlte Wissen von Themen, die vielleicht so alt sind, wie die Menschheit selbst, finden wir gerade bei den Vertretern der essentiellen Malerei, - denken Sie beispielsweise an Gotthard Graubner ’s Tizian-Zyklus, an Jerry Zeniuk‘ s Rückbezüge auf Giotto , an Peter Tollens‘ Referenzen an die Tradition des Tafelbildes oder hier in dieser Ausstellung András Gál‘ s Verweise auf Blinky Palermo, Richard Serra oder Barnett Newman.
Dabei geht es bei diesen Referenzen gerade nicht um unreflektierte Zitate, wie sie momentan auch in der nicht-figurativen Kunst zahlreich zu beklagen sind, sondern um mühsame Auseinandersetzung, historische Aufarbeitung und Selbstvergewisserung zugunsten grundlegender, essentieller Verhältnisse: Farbe und Fläche, Figur und Grund, Raum und Ort, Makro- und Mikrostruktur des Bildes, Bild und Betrachter, Sehprozeß und Erfahrung, Verdichtung und Befreiung. Zeitgenössische Vertreter dieser radikalen oder essenzialistischen Malerei (wie immer man sie bezeichnen möchte) können mit ihrer Arbeit nur in die Tiefe gehen, Details erforschen, Präzision und Verdichtung anstreben. Verdichtung nicht zuletzt auch durch vergleichende Analyse und Überarbeitung aus der eigenen heutigen Perspektive. Und so gewinnt diese Malerei ihre Nachhaltigkeit, alles Flüchtige und Unnötige ist - ganz im Sinne Greenbergs - überwunden.

Evelyn Bergner

Zitiert aus:
Vgl. Clement Greenberg: Die Essenz der Moderne; Dresden 1997, S. 19
Vgl. Dieter Honisch: Uecker; Stuttgart 1983, S. 18
(3) Vgl. „ Outside the Cartouche. Zur Frage des Betrachters in der radikalen Malerei“; München 1986, S. 39


As Andras Gal is well aware current investigation into the genre of monochrome arose outside the tradition of non-objective painting. Confusion with abstract expressionism, informel, concrete art, cercle et carre, color field, in fact any earlier “abstract” work leads to missing the point of what has been called radical, but is actually a continuing exploration of painting materials, techniques and contexts. Each work or series examines selected aspects of these areas.
Of several points Andras Gal has made in writing to me I find the most pertinent his awareness of the significance of installation in what he calls “reproducing the atelier situation within an exhibition space.” The object that is the painting comes to life when it is installed in a calculated manner taking into account the particulars of a given space, in a less casual manner than that of the work in the studio, but clearly related to how paintings are handled there. This remains a fertile area for further exploration. I will want to be kept informed of how this develops.

Marcia Hafif