Itís more confused than ever. But thatís what itís all about.
What would Protestantism be without Catholicism? After all, who else should the »sole Church of salvation« square up to if not the Protestants? Both need each other, be it now as the source and inflow of religious elements or as a mutually-beneficial corrective and confirmation of their essence. Both views belong together precisely because they permanently affirm each other while seemingly being mutually contradictory. Indeed, today it is hard to imagine that there was once a time when this dualism was irrelevant. On the one hand, the insistence on an image and a dogma, coupled with the conviction that one was a member of the only true and truly universal community on earth; and, on the other, the deep trust in the word and belief in the principle of subjectivity and the autonomy of reason. On the one side, that rough sea of bold luscious colors, on the other the attempt to construe the world before a sober grey foil. We see two versions of one and the same thing with differing properties, two mutually complementary polarities, like the left and right sides of a diptych by Anne Berning. (Ill. p. 20-23) But how should one go about contemplating such an exciting and tense image?
When confronted by one of the artist’s wall-filling works, which owing to their variable components she terms installation, you may feel the left »catholic« side is a powerful resonant color score. Yet for someone else it may be nothing more than a random excerpt from a set of speci-mens left behind by a carpet dealer. An informed viewer may perhaps feel more attracted by the notations that have become an image on the right, while a primarily visually-oriented person may consider the one or other sentence in that section less appealing. Yet both systems are by no means as autonomous and stable as you might initially suspect. They have holes and empty spaces. And because they essentially determine each other and there is overlap at the point of contact, at some places the one trickles into the other and vice versa. Thus, on the »catholic« side we can spy through a monochrome blue surface the purely typographical announcement of a concert, while on the exact opposite side, beneath a section of grey we can discern an almost completely hidden image of a Rock band. Yet even where the one side does not dovetail with the other through contradictions, bipolar links can arise that strongly attract each other. In a dialectical sense, for example, an intense cardinal red in the left field of the overall installation is juxtaposed to the painted-over sheet aluminum in the »protestant« side, as a highimpact reference to the ever greater confusion in the world. It originates from William Gaddis’ last novel, »Agapé Agape«.
Gaddis (1922 – 1998) was indebted to the Calvinist tradition and is infamous for protagonists whose sentences never end, for figures who constantly talk at each other, and often chatter endlessly with no cause or topic, even when no one is listening. His passionate lament on the decline of the world, his grand speech on life and the deterioration of language, on corrupt lawyers, cloned sheep and on art and its pending demise by advancing mechanization is paralleled on the visual side a constantly greater confusion of images that sometimes only fascinate us because they seem as grotesque as they are significant. Because without a doubt words and works, images and books are constantly mounting up at an ever faster pace, catalogs with their colorful illustration and commentaries tower up around us, and the mass of art postcards, posters and printed matter is slowly but surely becoming truly immeasurably great.
»What happened!«, Gaddis asks in his autobiographical novel and immediately provides the answer: with the invention of the playerpiano that enables its owner to play the works of major composers at any time simply by inserting a punched paper drum. In his opinion, this entertainment device from the early 20th century, controlled by a primitive form of binary coding, paved the way for all things by means of which a short time later »storming the gates seeking pleasure democracy scaling the walls terrifying the elite who’ve had a corner on high class entertainment«. Gaddis claims the »whole stupefied mob out there waiting to be entertained, turning the creative artist into a performer, into a celebrity«. »Disorder and dislocation, wherever you look, entropy drowning everything in sight, entertainment and technology and every four year old with a computer,« Gaddis rages. And despite this hopeless state of affairs, he endeavors to get his thoughts into order. For his last grand monologue he draws on support from Sigmund Freud, Thomas Bernhard, Platon, Richard Wagner, Hermann Melville, Ludwig van Beethoven, Paul Valéry, Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert, Friedrich Nietzsche and many others besides.
Anne Berning likewise deploys all those artists as combatants without whom in her opinion art would be impossible – and without whom there would be neither artistic perception nor an intellectual way of seeing. Her quotes from texts and images, book spines, picture postcards, artbook covers and not least the sometimes cryptic allusions in the »walls of index cards« of her major installations directly or indirectly reference those artists whom artist Berning celebrates with and through her painting, and whom she thanks by dedicating her work as a painter to them. In this catalogue they include i.e.: Jasper Johns, Philip Guston, Vermeer, Piet Mondrian, Magritte, Picasso, Witold Gombrowicz, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Hannah Wilke, Ross Bleckner, Garutti, Pontormo, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Baptist-Siméon Chardin, Ad Reinhard, William Gaddis, Paul Cézanne – who astonishingly enough some time ago was of the opinion that everything was disappearing and that we therefore needed to hurry up if we wanted to see something – John Baldessari, Robert Filliou, John Cage, André Thomkins, Raoul Hausmann, Bruce Nauman, Outerbridge, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Francis Bacon, David Lynch, Alex Katz, Edouard Manet, Georges de La Tour, Andy Warhol, Diego Velázquez, Caravaggio, Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Emmett Williams, René Magritte, Henri Matisse, Beatriz Milhazes, Joan Miró, Kara Walker, Francis Alÿs, Mary Heilmann, Max Beckmann, Edward Hopper, Bart van der Leck, Sigmar Polke, Pieter Brueghel, Gustave Courbet, Andrea Mantegna, Malcolm Morley, John Isaak, Piero della Francesca, Marcel Duchamp, Giovanni Bellini and Rosemarie Trockel.
Berning explicitly only excludes three artists from her cosmos, three who however remain unnamed and whose names it would be so interesting to learn. In the case of Gaddis, Nietzsche finally wins out against Tolstoy, whereas Berning would seem not to have decided which picture will at the end place itself in front of all the others and whether someone will win out at all.
Like Gaddis, Berning endeavors with her work to bring order into a world that apparently tends quite hopelessly towards disorder and on certain days seems so threatening that you could be forgiven thinking that it will sooner or later elude us by disintegrating completely. Berning, by digging deep into the huge stack of available images, by quoting and combining, by insisting on engaging certain artists in dialog while leaving others unmentioned, tries to dry out a few places in that deep quagmire of chaos and chance. To this end, she skillfully weaves strong voices to form a plea for the authentic in art, without submitting to the illusion that she has therefore invented something absolutely unique or completely new. That it is quite meaningful to proceed the way she proceeds is something Berning indicates by including a quote from Andre Gide on the »Protestant« side: »Everything has already been said. But since no one listens, it has to constantly be said anew!«
Berning’s work groups force us to see the entire »big picture« and include in our perception that centuries-old skein of affinities between art’s history, its reception, and its reproduction. She is manifestly interested not only in seeing what something looks like when she appropriates it through painting, but also in the network, the system and the complicated context in which we all find ourselves. As an artist, she acts on the one hand as if she were responsible for the whole and as a painter on the other she acts as if the system from the very outset implies what she does. In Berning’s paintings we can sense linkages between all those aspects which as a sum total create the art system, even if in the process the dividing lines between documentation, speculation and experiment get utterly blurred and permanently change.
Berning’s images activate a feel for an historical dimension innate in all artistic development, namely for the fact that artworks consist not just of a topical surface, but always rest on one another. She views art only superficially from the outside, knowing full well that there can be no »outside« for artists, as all questions which she as an artist asks of the art system also reflect on her work. So Berning’s paintings essentially address the impossibility of having a vantage point outside the system if you want to find something out about the system. They attest once again to the fact that art is organized as a closed circuit. Only those can immerse themselves in this world comprehendingly who assume a role in it. And in this way that inspiring mesh of dependences arises on the basis of which one must think and act. Anyone grasping themselves as part of the system knows when he acts that he is changing not only himself but also the whole picture. Which is why in the world of art there can be no artists who are not involved. Put succinctly: If you want to take part, you have to take part! And because Anne Berning does this in what is in the final analysis a very unmistakable way, she enhances the rumblings in the archive – and what a stimulating sound it is.