Konrad Klapheck, German Painter and Cult Favorite Who Viewed Machines as People, Dies at 88

Konrad Klapheck, a German artist whose images of typewriters, adding machines, and more have drawn a cult following both in and beyond his home country, died at 88 on July 30. Cologne’s Museum Ludwig confirmed his passing in an Instagram post Tuesday.

Klapheck’s paintings, in particular those portraying typewriters, are cold and straightforward. They seem at first glance to represent little more than their mechanical subjects themselves. For that reason, some have said Klapheck was in dialogue with Surrealism while others have aligned his work with Pop, which raised consumerist objects like these to the status of art.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

Yet the phones, sewing machines, irons, and more that Klapheck painted contain a quiet malignancy that spoke to the West German psyche and to the lingering specter of Nazism, which enlisted quotidian objects such as typewriters toward evil, bureaucratic ends.

“The machines became living people,” Klapheck said in an interview conducted by the Harvard Art Museums. “It was . . . like classical theater, with different [archetypes]: the stingy father, the generous mother, the beautiful and sometimes cruel daughter of the stingy father, and so on.”

He continued, “In my work . . . there are paintings that have nothing to do with politics and others that are very much [related]. Sometimes it’s reflected in the title, sometimes the whole thing is inspired by . . . the governing idea of life and power.”

His paintings have proven hard to pin down, especially on the rare occasions when they were shown in bulk outside Germany. In 1969, New York Times critic Grace Glueck wrote that works exhibited at Sidney Janis Gallery that year contained “an inscrutable, totemic quality that conveys a faint menace.” Barry Schwabsky, writing in Artforum on the occasion of Klapheck’s next New York solo show, at Edward Thorp Gallery in 1994, said the artist worked in a style that is “cool and fastidious, but never slick (as it invariably appears in reproduction).”

A painting of a King typewriter.
A typewriter painting by Konrad Klapheck.

Konrad Klapheck was born in 1935 in Düsseldorf, Germany, the city where he would remain for the entirety of his career. His parents were both art historians who taught at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, which Klapheck himself would later attend; they fostered in him an interest in art from a young age, and were permissive of his ambitions of becoming a painter early on.

Much of Klapheck’s childhood was spent in a Germany run by the Nazis, and the experiences would inform his work. Initially, he drew the ruins he saw all around him, but he soon transitioned to creating his “machine pictures” starting in 1955. At first, these works were titled plainly. Then he began to lend them names like The Emperor (1966), hinting at explorations of power.

Not everyone was thrilled with Klapheck’s work. Some German critics viewed the work as a pointless rehash of Dada aesthetics from the early 20th century. Yet there were some admirers, including the famed Surrealist poet André Breton, who provided the text for a Klapheck show at Sonnabend Gallery in Paris, writing, “Unmasked or not, as long as the world has an appetite for technical progress, we cannot expect that the machine will abandon its role as vamp.”

During the 1990s, Klapheck made the confounding decision to begin portraying human figures, a move that curator Dieter Roelstraete likened to the trajectory of the Dadaist Francis Picabia.

Klapheck, who taught at the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1979 until his retirement in 2002, may not be quite as well-known as other Germans of his generation, but some major artists have admitted to taking his work as inspiration. The painter Albert Oehlen, for example, once stated that his own charcoal drawings are influenced by Klapheck’s.

In 2006, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist published a book of interviews with Klapheck, and in 2013, the dealers David Zwirner and Iwan Wirth mounted a Klapheck survey in New York.

Solo shows for Klapheck have been staged at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Hamburger Kunsthalle, and the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg in France. His work also appeared in two editions of the Documenta quinquennial in Kassel.

Source: artnews.com

No votes yet.
Please wait...