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Rainer Fetting in Berlin (and New York) Review

Image:Psychedelic East I, 1990 © 2011 Rainer Fetting

Against a yellow background with Berlin’s iconic TV Tower, a blonde in bra and panties turns to us while pulling on a long black boot. Is that a woman? The made-up Jaggeresque face in Rainer Fetting’s ‘ Psychedelic East’ (1990) and his history of painting gay scenes suggest otherwise. The legendary German artist is the subject of a major retrospective at the Berlinische Galerie, with four decades of bold paintings depicting characters, rock’ n’ roll stages and cityscapes on show.

Born in a small port town, Fetting came to Berlin to study painting at the Hochschule der Künste (Arts Academy) and co-founded the Galerie am Moritzplatz in gritty Kreuzberg in 1977, which shook up Germany’s art scene. The first part of the show, ‘ Role-Playing and Friends’, presents pictures from this time. Fetting portrayed gay characters, including himself and his lover Salomé. Hockney had
brought gay subjects to art with a light, delicate touch, but Fetting’s thick macho brush strokes were fast and raw. He became one of the Neue Wilder (New Wild Ones), an art movement that dispensed with guilt or nostalgia for the German past. That being said, Fetting repeatedly honours the past. His naked figures in Schwimbad Prinzenstrasse (1979) deliberately echo Kirchner’s Bathers painted 69
years earlier. Fetting may paint himself in a dress, but more often in a hat, honouring van Gogh. And his bold-coloured expressionism ultimately owes much to Matisse.

Drummer und Gitarrist, 1979 © Rainer Fetting
By the 80s, Fetting was established and he felt there was nothing more to achieve in Berlin. He moved to New York and started making playful home movies (some on show here) and hanging out at legendary punk venue CBGB’ s. The second part of the retrospective is titled Drummers and Guitarists and is exactly that. He painted generalised bands (although the Stones appear in one painting) and chose a viewpoint from the back of the stage, where musicians were silhouetted in the light, muscular figures of energy and movement. Perhaps no other painter has so successfully transferred the rawness and urgency of rock’ n’ roll nights to canvas as Fetting has done.

The third section of the show is called Wall Pictures. Fetting’s rise in Berlin was at a sharply politicised time when the city was divided, but for him, the Wall was a motif running through the city. Later, any public inhibitions dissolved by New York, he would be filmed against the Wall, running along it with joyous abandon or wearing his van Gogh hat with pink gloves, or splashing paint against it, Pollock-
style. Yet his drawings and canvases captured considered, atmospheric aspects of a depopulated cityscape. Krähen über Berlin (Crows over Berlin), painted in 1979, with its sinister birds in a deep blue sky around the TV Tower, is very van Gogh, while Alte Fabrick (Old Factory) Moritzplatz (1977) is like an Edward Hopper in psychedelic colours.

Fetting returns to Berlin after the fall of the Wall and a final row of his canvases interprets or chronicles the construction blitz of the re-united city, or inserts figures of latent sexuality into it. To many, Berlin still conjures up images of the pre-Nazi partying madness of the Weimar Republic or the post-war arena of spies like Quiller, but Fetting presents different characters and spaces. Even so, both of those worlds, romanticised in popular culture, are in his work. Otto Dix also painted extraordinary Berlin characters in the 20s, for example, and Fetting’s Wall is after all the Cold War’s great symbol.

It’s almost as if his work bridges these pasts to the present Berlin status as an über-hip art capital. It is easy to admire Fetting’s figurative expressionism or his honesty in gay art, but (despite and because of his New York time) he is also a vital part of the art fabric of Berlin. That makes the Berlinische Galerie’s Fetting show essential.

Rainer Fetting at the Berlinische Gallerie Alte Jakobstrasse 124-128
10969 Berlin www.berlinischegalerie.de
U-bahn Kochstrasse or Moritzplatz
10-6 every day except Tuesday, until 12 September 2011



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