Is Informel the New Zero?
At last, one might say, the slumber of Informel, the hitherto most underestimated direction of postwar art, is over. The paintings of Hans Hartung, Karl Otto Götz, and Martha Jungwirth now hang in prominent places in the booths of major European fairs. Informel art, which consists primarily of gesture, color, and structure, is being rediscovered. Some insiders already see a new wave rushing in, as stimulating as that of Zero art a good ten years ago. Will Informel really be the new Zero?
Exterior view of the Museum Küppersmühle, architects: Herzog & de Meuron, Photo: Jörg Seiler
This kind of art from the 1950s and 60s, which is devoid of form and composition, possesses emotion and dynamism and currently has a good chance of making a leap
Yet the situation is a little different this time. The prices of the first avant-garde German works have been rising slowly but surely for years. Without sensationalism, without speculative tones, without irascible outliers. There’s no new rocket being ignited on the market, launching vertically into the sky.
The Ströhrer Collection of Informel art in Duisburg’s Küppersmühle Museum stems from of a mature canon that dealers like Galerie Schlichtenmaier have been promoting for decades. And not the beginnings.
Slowly but steadily: Quite without hype, the prices of the first avant-garde of the post-war period are rising
Karl Fred Dahmen, Ohne Titel, 1953, Mixed media on handmade paper, 38 x 50,5 cm, signed and dated lower right: Dahmen 53 © Karl Fred Dahmen / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Courtesy Galerie Schlichtenmaier
Today, it’s highly unlikely that a single auction, like that of the Lenz Schönberg Collection back in 2010, would trigger a veritable hype for the works of a particular movement. At the time, the art world was experiencing a phenomenon: following top-heavy Minimalism, following light-footed Pop Art and the iconoclastic Young British Artists, Zero art, then forty or fifty years old, suddenly emerged from an invisible zone as a revelation boasting playful innovation and philosophical reflection.
Even after decades, the kinetic objects, the port-wine stains, the light installations exuded a peerless optimism. Everyone suddenly wanted works by Günther Uecker, Otto Piene, and Heinz Mack, and Adolph Luther’s sparkling lens objects. And, with a slight time delay, Jan Schoonhoven’s grid paintings and works by Hermann Goepfert and Piero Manzoni.
In the dualism of dynmaic and contemplation on to a universal visual language
Karl Otto Götz, Komposition vom 22.6.55, 1955, Mixed media on canvas, 55 x 70 cm, signed lower left: K. O. Götz; verso signed and dated: K. O. Götz 22.6.1955 © Peter Brüning / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Courtesy Galerie Schlichtenmaier
What makes Informel painting so appealing to us is its blend of energy and contemplation, which touches the deep longings of the twenty-first century. Incidentally, this also applies to the works of the postwar artists Fritz Winter or Ernst Wilhelm Nay, who worked abstractly but not in the Informel vein.
A new understanding of the universality of their visual language is spreading, among other things, because a whole series of young contemporary artists is bringing the gestural into today’s art as a matter of course, as if it were always present.
With prices still affordable, Germany's informal artists offer high potentials
Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 142 x 181 cm, 1er décembre 2018, 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 142 x 181 cm / 56 x 71 1/4 in, Verso upper right signed, titled and dated: SOULAGES Peinture, 142 x181 cm 01 12 2018, © Pierre Soulages, Photo: Christoph Münstermann, Düsseldorf, Courtesy Galerie Karsten Greve Köln Paris St. Moritz
Collectors have long been attuned to the best Informel works. Pierre Soulages, France’s late figurehead of art Informel who passed away this October, Jackson Pollock, and Joan Mitchell from the circle of Abstract Expressionists, the US counterpart, have all long since passed the million-dollar mark. Germany’s Informalists such as Fred Thieler, Peter Brüning, and Gerhard Heohme are still lagging behind in price. But they certainly deserve the kind of hype the Zero artists have received.
Text: Sabine Spindler