Lessons from a Room

For some fifteen years, Matthias Weischer, has been internationally recognized as one of the leading artists of the New Leipzig School of German representational painters, which includes Neo Rauch, Tim Eitel, David Schnell, Tilo Baumgärtel, Rosa Loy, Ulf Puder, and others. It is surprising, then, that “Stage,” this impressive exhibition […]

For some fifteen years, Matthias Weischer, has been internationally recognized as one of the leading artists of the New Leipzig School of German representational painters, which includes Neo Rauch, Tim Eitel, David Schnell, Tilo Baumgärtel, Rosa Loy, Ulf Puder, and others. It is surprising, then, that “Stage,” this impressive exhibition of recent oil-on-canvas paintings, is Weischer’s first US solo.

The artists associated with the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts—once one of East Germany’s premier schools for Socialist Realism—have merged the traditional techniques of painting and drawing that were for decades the Academy’s focus, with avant-garde innovations of Western contemporary figuration and abstract art. Soon after graduating at the age of thirty in 2003, Weischer established a reputation for refined interior scenes and ambiguous spatial relationships—unpopulated living rooms and bedrooms, with intricate details and a consistently hushed, eerie atmosphere. Sometimes they recall the serene  domestic spaces of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864–1916) or the opulent but vacant interiors of American painter Walter Gay (1856–1937), albeit without the fin de siècle glitz.

In 2005, David Hockney selected Weischer for a one-year private mentorship, and the English artist’s influence can be felt in many of the younger painter’s subsequent works. Another major formative experience for Weischer was an extended stay in Rome, in 2007, after winning the German version of the Rome Prize. Thereafter, ancient Roman murals and mosaics stimulated his process and imagination.   

Matthias Weischer, Stage, 2020, oil on canvas, 80 3/4 by 74 1/8 inches; at Grimm.

The four large-scale and eleven smaller paintings included in “Stage” (all works 2020), feature brilliant color, sumptuous impasto surfaces, and rather uncanny domestic spaces with bright but distressed-looking walls. Two pairs of small works (Mirror 1 and 2; and Disciple 1 and 2) present nearly identical images and matching brushstrokes, examples of a kind of painterly exercise that the artist has employed for some years.

Despite skewed perspectives and disjointed figure-ground arrangements, the pictures convey convincing environments. Weischer’s illusionistic devices, including exaggerated shading and subtly nuanced modulation of color, enliven works such as Lounge. In this large canvas, heightened tones of bright purple and deep blue clash with the turquoise ceiling to suggest a compressed—and claustrophobic—living room with modernist furniture. A potted plant with stylized leaves, on the left side of the room, might be lifted directly from an early Hockney painting.

On one level, Weischer’s work explores spatial phenomenology. Blue Corner, for instance, shows a nearly empty living room with blue-gray walls and a vase of flowers set on the gold-carpeted floor in the foreground. Using subtle shading and a slightly distorted perspective, Weischer draws inordinate attention to a rather vacant angle in a room, casting the viewer as a “corner reader,” imagining “life in corners, and the universe itself withdrawn into a corner with the daydreamer,” to take a cue from Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space (1958).

Over the past decade, Weischer has also delved into landscape and figure studies. Figures appear in the “Stage” works, but only in “paintings” hung on the walls of the depicted rooms. These pictures-within-pictures include an image of two jousting knights in the show’s title piece. The large, resplendent work shows a spare interior with a yellow ochre floor—appointed with a lone tulip in a vase—and a wall bifurcated into white and red horizontal bands. Colorfully patterned curtains flank the room—a green leafy design on the right, and thin, vertical stripes on the left. An oval mirror hangs on the upper left, and at center, two small, indistinct, wall-mounted round objects counterpoint the framed image of the medieval knights, which is positioned under a spotlight.

In Olympia, a detail of Manet’s 1863 painting appears in an oval reproduction on one wall of a bedroom with viridian walls. Focused on the servant bearing flowers for the model, the borrowed image commands Weischer’s elusive space, in which a nightstand and the edge of a bed seem unreasonably crammed into the corner. A small clock on the nightstand alludes to the sense of waiting in both scenes and to the great span of time encompassed by Weischer’s painterly homage to Manet. In each of the works in his remarkable US debut, Weischer establishes a sense of grand theater in which time and space are protagonists and the history of art is a scene-stealing costar.

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