I call it ORANGES

Art Reviews, Cultural Bric a Brac, Jargon Free

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

I am an independent writer living in Los Angeles. I write Visual Art Reviews, General Cultural Essays, and Book Reviews.

Friday, July 06, 2007

One Piece at a Time: Neo Rauch's Para, 2007

I haven’t yet seen Neo Rauch’s monumental painting Para, 2007 at the Met in New York. I know it only from reproduction. I also know it is sacrilege to write of a painting from such a faulty source. But a blog is an informal forum and I cannot resist.

Para contains three loosely connected moments all held in a sort of arrest. The first moment is a man brooding at a keyboard who decides to swivel out of his chair presumably to play his horn. His chair is perched on some sort of disgusting blob and he languishes out of it without noticing the patch of luminosity above the piano keys. The man’s motion leads him down a long thick curtain where we find a couple, revealed by passage of cloth pulled back. The male part of the couple is ready to enter what might be a room hidden behind the curtain and he tries to pull his limp, reticent female counterpart into the space. Not only does she not want to go, but she has no interest in carrying her cello, which she allows to fall towards the floor. The last moment of the work is a still life to the right of the man and the couple, a dense table of mysterious stuff including a multitude of pulp books or tapes, an anvil and hammer, and a dragon or a griffin. The word “Para” floats above the beast.

What are we to make of this painting? Rauch himself said that he likes the pliable nature of the prefix “Para,” that it can easily suggest “Paranormal,” “Parallax,” or “Parallel.” All of these words given by Rauch correspond to the Latin root of “Para,” which means “beside or beyond.” So what are we beside in the painting and what is beyond?

This is where the painting, with its confluence of disparate objects and outdated fashions and with its mixture of surrealism’s juxtapositions with parodied social realism, gets interesting. I have to think that what is “beyond” or “beside” in this painting is literally the hidden room. We are beside it yet due to the immense curtain, it is beyond us. Not only is the room beyond us, music is beyond us as well. There are three instruments in the paintings and yet apparently there is no sound. The people seem incapable of music. Perhaps the hidden room contains the music, that its strains are only heard in a place that is removed from us. There are some, like the man looking through the curtain, who willingly enter this room. There are others, like the woman, who are disinclined. Every person in the painting aligns their actions according to the hidden space.

It is easy to get psychoanalytic here, considering this is the stuff of Rauch’s own dreams and the structure of the image can be likened to the psychological framework of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Can we not see the hidden room as the displaced object of desire -- the place that sings to us and seduces us, the place we always to pursue but never reach? The primal mother. The object of desire for Freud was always present but never overwhelming because of the strictures of the ego. The object for Lacan ultimately was the real, which we can never return to and never fully know. For both men, however, only in neurosis is desire manifest without restriction.

What is behind the curtain lends Para a suggestive, haunting nature. It alludes to a place we can only safely go in art. If we went in reality, we would lose our minds. This hidden place animates Rauch’s painting as desire animates our often slow lives. I think of the theater of David Lynch’s Mullhollond Drive or the Black Lodge of Twin Peaks. I doubt Rauch is making this reference, but the connection is still there. At certain points in Lynch, we find ourselves in a curtained room where desires become manifest, where the superego and ego dissolve and the id is allowed expression for a moment.

This is strange place, and it is usually when the more sane or less analytic of us turn the television off and leave the theater. However, to discover the weird mechanisms behind our actions and to view the perversions that could emerge from their repressed state if allowed is fascinating. Perhaps for Rauch, the curtained room is something lost, like freedom in his East German upbringing. Who knows? Most of us will never know. Our desires, what we want, usually do not have the status of the big object. Instead, what we usually seek are the ambiguous sundry items on the table outside the curtain. We chase the Griffin.