Interview by Jeni Fulton in Berlin // June 5, 2012
The New Berlin Painters launch their first exhibition at Statt Berlin Gallery on June 8, 2012, featuring the works of Paul Vogeler and Moritz Hoffmann. Vogeler and Hoffman showcase their latest works in an exhibition accompanied by a catalogue, words from Jerry Saltz, a manifesto, among other elements. The manifesto, which accompanies The New Berlin Painters exhibition with 16 points of refreshing dialogue, was first premiered in an interview between Paul Vogeler and Nadja Sayej on April 13, 2012 for Whitehot magazine. Since then, it has garnered social media praise and a lively discussion throughout the art world.
In the following statement, Vogeler illustrates his philosophy as a painter and artist in the modern age:
“Conceptual art. Yeah, the spray paint and there’s a piece of fabric that’s exactly 10 cm long. It’s just boring. I don’t want to read about why it’s amazing, I want to feel it. And when you see a good painting, you feel it. When you first see the Sistine Chapel, you feel it. You don’t need this explanation or from someone who has a graduate degree from Yale to give you a reason why a fucking cigarette in an ashtray is a work of art – it’s fucking bullshit and everyone knows it. Everyone goes along with it. It’s a child reaction that is important, it shouldn’t be so conflated and esoteric and bullshit, and that’s what we’re going for with the New Berlin Painters. We make work that comes from our gut, our feeling, ourselves and that’s the emotion we want people to get out of it. It’s not ‘look at my painting and then read the novel about why my painting is amazing by the curators and collectors who think my painting is amazing.’ No. It’s like ‘fuck you, look at the painting, get something from it from your gut, don’t think about it just feel it.’ I really think for us it’s a move back to emotion over rationalism. It’s a visceral reaction first.”
Berlin Art Link spoke with Paul Vogeler a week before the opening to get his take on the painting tradition in Germany and the relationship between this manifesto and his artistic practice.
JENI FULTON: What inspired you guys to write a manifesto in the first place, why the need to proclaim your position?
PAUL VOGELER: The manifesto is really just a statement of 16 points that Moritz Hoffmann and I idealogically agree upon. Yes its a manifesto, but really its should be seen as a framework for us as artists. The manifesto came out of years of discussions about ideas, frustrations, and beliefs about the art world and the socio-political climate of our epoch. The foundations for this manifesto were starting to be written in 2009; its been years to narrow it down to the best points. We live in a harsch time, both as citizens and painters. When ideas are written down they somehow become powerful, as can be seen by all the negative, and often childish, criticism we have encountered for writing it. But they are our ideas, our beliefs about art and the world and we stand by them. This is what we believe and then we make our work. Maybe the ideas are reflected in the work, maybe they are not. But they are there somewhere. Maybe others feel the same way, so its also a way to reach out to strangers and future collaborators who share a common sentiment. Every major group or movement had one. We proclaim our position because we want to, because we have too. Because we are not afraid to say something. Action is always better than in-action. But as serious as the manifesto is and we are as artists, we also share a sentiment of lightheartedness: let the people talk, let them say what they want, let them hate and call us conservatives, or babys, or say that someone should stab us. The critics like Alex Forbes and Jerry Saltz will always be at the sidelines because they lack two things: balls and talent. They are like political characters in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, always agreeing with the King or common public sentiment, too afraid to really go upstream, as to say. That’s why they are critics, we are happy for them. They are heroes. We will still be in our studios making work. Will they ever know what we are really thinking?
Given that Berlin is swarming with painters, and Germany as a country has a strong painting tradition – most recently through the neue Leipziger Schule – how do you see your practice standing out from what is already here, given that you call yourself the “New” Berlin painters?
Moritz is not a big fan of Rauch, but I really respect the Neue Leipziger Schule, and definitely sense a more appreciation towards painting here than in America, especially darker varieties. I respect them because they know how to paint, and went to school for years to learn to do so, with their Miesterschulers as well. This is very different than the American system, where we get critique after critique from “artists” who know nothing about painting, and after spending 200k on an art education, are left wondering, what the …? Moritz and I basically had to teach ourselves to paint, through mentors, outside classes, and trial and error. I see us as an extension from this new painterly revival, the Neue Leipziger Schule. The problem I now have with so much of that school now is this, that every painting can be described like this : ambiguous place with ambiguous people doing ambiguous things. Right?? Once I came to that conclusion I can’t look at any painting by Tim Eitel or Rauch the same way. Maybe theres a staircase too. But really these guys are amazing painters and heroes of mine. But how can we build upon their research? How can we break out of that mold of the Leipzig style, and say something new with painting? Or build upon their ideas? Or maybe fill it with more passion, sex, death, anger, like Moritz, or more melancholy and disenchantment, as in my work. To includes those things, that is to say life and how we see it, and still be intellectual about it? Still give it real content? That’s the challenge and its exciting!
We call ourselves “New” because our manifesto is a statement of we feel “new” ideas. Or maybe they aren’t new, but resurrected ideas. And Berlin, because Berlin is our home-base. The manifesto also has a very negative critical political part, which we feel is really correct. But to us the ideas are new, and we are new, we are young, sort of! We are certainly not the old way of thinking, right? We would have stayed in NYC and kissed more ass. Maybe made some paper cutout’s or stripe paintings! I am an expat, and Moritz is not a native Berliner. Potential New Berlin Painters, the ones who have emailed or contacted us, have all been expats as well. Maybe there is something interesting in a bunch of people leaving NYC, because its dead, and calling a new city in Europe their home? Also Berlin is a very old city, but New in the sense of its reunification. I feel we are part of spirit of this city. New York is like Hollywood for artists, its sad, but Berlin, hmm…there is different energy here. It is an old city, but still very fresh.
How do you intend to put your manifesto into practice?
Haha. Just keep on keepin on, as we say in the Midwest. Painting in our studios. This exhibition. Then another. Gaining more followers and supporters. Then a militant wing, with big sexy guns. No, guns are bad! We will see what the future holds…