MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst
July 12 – October 20, 2013
Eberhard Havekost has always made it clear that his paintings neither stand apart nor together as a “body of work,” as that term has been overhauled since postmodernism. Whether presented in a tight solo exhibition, a sprawling group show, or anything in between, his canvases often have a resemblance that is fraternal—and in key circumstances just shy of identical—sharing a sometimes razor-thin proximity of appearance that creates something akin to a magnetic force. This push-and-pull keeps his work from coming off as aloof: even when his most one-off painting appears as if it had been deliberately held in reserve, something about it exudes a palpable and even eerie sense of connectedness. This could be the result of its image (and/or its source), the way it is painted (Havekost’s technical range is extensive, impressive, and critical), or even where it is located on the wall or in a room (the work is site-relational, not dependent). With this substantial presentation of approximately 100 works in a rather ideal setting, Havekost has come closer than I’ve ever seen to conveying what I take to be his main point: no matter what they might relate to, or where they may come from, his paintings never stand apart from themselves. Put another way, his work—despite all of the means with which it is conceived and produced using stuff found outside of painting—stays in painting with purpose and an absolute lack of compromise.
In 2005, after a decade of showing elsewhere, Havekost had his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. Titled Sonnenschutz, translated as “protection from the sun,” it not only directly addressed its location (including, for example, nine small paintings called “Personal Engineering”  that quite slickly depicted what I took to be the faces of pale Europeans behind dark sunglasses), but also interwove the comingling of abstraction and representation in painting, post-Richter, into that of fiction and reality in film, television, and, of course, photography. Now, eight years later, with the benefit of this expansive yet concentrated exhibition, I’ll argue that Havekost has developed a form of “reality show” painting that brilliantly resists the pathology that has overrun the entertainment industry, all while demonstrating that painting may be reconciling its entanglements and reasserting its value.
I’ll admit that this notion didn’t hit me while in Havekost’s exhibition, even though it now seems obvious. Paintings like “Flatscreen, B12” and “Inkjet Flatscreen, B12” (2012) literally depict the necessary device for the delivery of such entertainment (the former looking like crisp New Objectivity and the latter like it is being seen through cataracts); a series of four paintings called “Shimmery Mauve” (2007) provide cropped views of an ideal location for their passive intake, the oily sofa. There is one most unsettling painting, “Ocean, B12” (2012), that takes its almost-formalist triangular image of a pair of bare legs with a hint of bikini at the crotch from an H&M street advertisement Havekost encountered in Berlin (this according to Katy Siegel’s stimulating catalogue essay). Nothing about it is reserved: warped in both appearance and attitude, it constructs its own visual reality, keeping within the long-standing formalism of painting (color, shape, form, illusion, space) while not separating from the rest of the world, mediated or not. I am reminded here of Michel Houellebecq’s most recent novel The Map and the Territory, in which, as Laura Kipnis described in her Bookforum review, “people are worried about other people’s tendency to confuse representation with what’s being represented.” Havekost has the same concern, but unlike Houellebecq, his comes with more calm and less anxiety.
Or maybe not. When Havekost installs 10 smallish and diverse canvases together salon style (as he does here), all with titles that start with “Jetzt” (all from 2010), the temperature of the “now” stated in their naming is at best tricky to read. Does Havekost hedge his bets here? Four of these paintings share the subtitle “Flatscreen vs. Flowers” but look nothing alike, predating the dialectical focus of the two paintings from 2012 I’ve discussed above; two isolate thick, colorful strokes of paint for their own material sakes; another two look to be flatly-yet-velvety painted pictures of fragments of flowing hair and the body, both being nearly identical versions of each other; and the last two are the most plainly representational, even if they depict the eye of a timeless reptile and the grinning face of a sufficiently reptilian man wearing, for good measure, sunglasses. Even if anxiety resides in this work and its presentation, Havekost makes it clear that in no way does this get in the way of what still makes painting painting.
Philosophenweg 55 // Duisburg, Germany D-47051
ContributorTerry R. Myers
Terry R. Myers is a critic and independent curator based in Los Angeles.