Visual Arts in Germany: Exhibitions and Artist Portraits

In the Vortex of the World – Corinne Wasmuht in Berlin

Corinne Wasmuht: Raupen, 1995 | Photo: Friedrich Rosenstiel

The Haus am Waldsee in Berlin presents “Supracity”, the first retrospective of the work of Corinne Wasmuht, who paints pictures – slowly and deliberately – of a high-speed world.

Corinne Wasmuht is quick to point out that the pictures she paints on her oversized canvases are not supposed to be dreamlike visions. Nonetheless, she does sometimes liken her simultaneous visual worlds to the moment just before falling asleep, when impressions, memories and snippets of everyday life tumble unfiltered before the mind’s eye, juxtaposing images that do not really belong together. Perhaps it is a bit like on the radio when different channels overlap and everyone is talking at once, yet fragments can still be picked out – and one’s imagination fills in the gaps. This, at least, is the impression given by the worlds that Corinne Wasmuht creates on the canvas, in which New York is suddenly next to Berlin or Rio de Janeiro is not far from a North German beach; in which multiple tunnels snake their way through strange lunar landscapes, waterfalls cascade on top of one another and streets become runways to infinity. They are blurred. Caught up in the intoxication of speed? Allowing themselves to drift, as if sleepwalking?

Corinne Wasmuht: Spiegelraum II, 1997, 219 x 157 cm, oil on wood | Photo: Friedrich Rosenstiel, Cologne | Corinne Wasmuht: Pathfinder, 2002 | Photo: Heinz Pelz

One thing is certain: her work is not the result of a spontaneous outburst. Her paintings are not composed of mounds of oil brought to the canvas by way of an instinctive gesture, as was the fashion among the “Junge Wilde” painters of the early eighties when Corinne Wasmuht began studying painting. She consciously dismissed this style, looking not inwards but painting on the basis of templates created using photographs and pictures taken from magazines, journals and newspapers which she compressed to form kaleidoscopes of people and empty rooms. These works are on show in the small upstairs rooms of the Haus am Waldsee as examples, and as a sort of addendum – just like her colourful views of the innards of insects and cross-sections of human extremities, artistically enlarged and arranged to form unique worlds.

Clashing motifs

Since then, Corinne Wasmuht has switched from the micro- to the macro-cosmos. She takes off into the fast-paced modern world of simultaneity in which things no longer happen in sequence but concurrently and which she overlays to form complex visual spaces. As she herself once vividly put it: “In a film, one image is followed by another, whereas I pile the images up on top of one another.” Works like 50 U Heinrich-Heine-Str. , a sampling of urban images, illustrate this style and reveal the slow, glaze-like application of oil paint on wood, a technique which takes longer than any other method of painting. This is also one reason why Wasmuht can generally only produce four or five paintings a year. These paintings, however, are huge: 2.51 by 5.43 metres; 2.79 by 2.86 or 2.23 by 7.03. Corinne Wasmuht’s pictures are very much one’s equal when one stands in front of them, not some sort of small peepshow device in which one can lose one’s way, but a statement made into a picture that one has to view from different angles and which presents different facets depending on whether it is seen close-up or from a distance.

Corinne Wasmuht. Artist’s rights reserved | Corinne Wasmuht: Räume, 1996, 218 x 196 cm, oil on wood | Photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn, Düsseldorf

These days, Corinne Wasmuht’s templates are photographs she has taken herself, and she is constantly adding new images to her archive, which is arranged into categories with titles such as rooms, airports or corridors. Ever since she was doing research for a mural for the Kunstverein in Bonn, her pictures have also featured more and more passersby. She starts off with an idea and then searches for the right motif. Or, as in the case of the narrative work Pathfinder, she explores a particular situation – like the fact that the Mars Pathfinder probe fell over immediately after landing and ended up sending mainly pictures of its own parachute back to earth. Corinne Wasmuht transforms the mission into a spatial flight with light reflexes in which fragments of the parachute can be imagined, and perhaps also a stream of data travelling at breakneck speed – and certainly a condensed room that appears to be breaking up but extends far beyond the boundaries of the picture itself.

The slowest form of painting

However much her motifs may expand, her style is extremely reserved. Besides the “clashing motifs”, it is above all her slow and laborious painting technique which characterizes her work. She applies countless wafer-thin layers of paint onto wooden boards that have been repeatedly whitewashed and polished, making her pictures shine, making them appear to be illuminated from behind and giving their surfaces an immateriality that is full of movement.

Corinne Wasmuht: Tunnel, 2000 | Photo: Achim Kukulies

People repeatedly study her biography in an attempt to explain her work. She was born in Dortmund in 1964, spent her early childhood in Peru and later grew up in Buenos Aires. An exotic start. Yet Corinne Wasmuht herself views this fact much more drily. “People read so much into this, thinking that it was this time that gave me my love of dazzlingly bright colours. They forget, however, that I have already lived in Germany for 25 years.” First in Düsseldorf, where she studied at the art academy, and now in Berlin. One thing that genuinely influenced her, however, is Latin American literature – magical realism, the fantasy worlds of Jorge Luis Borges and the fictitious worlds of Gabriel García Márquez. “But I love Kafka too”, she says. There is just as little linearity in her biography as there is in the reality that she translates into pictures; and they show that the view of the world has been constantly changing ever since the first tethered balloon rose into the air. Corinne Wasmuht sums up these changes in a whirr of images.

Corinne Wasmuht: “Supracity”, Haus am Waldsee Berlin, until 21 February 2010, Kunsthalle Nuremberg from 11 March to 15 May 2010
Sabine Danek
is a freelance author and editor who lives in Hamburg and Berlin.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
January 2010

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