After more than 20 years of collaboration with Sies + Höke, Michael van Ofen presents his first exhibition exclusively devoted to murals. In doing away with the canvas and creating monochromatic lacquer paintings directly on the wall, van Ofen is returning to an idea he first exhibited in the late 1970s, when he was still a student in Gerhard Richter’s class at Düsseldorf Academy. The mural he made then, an entire wall covered in glossy white varnish, reflected the light from the opposing windows. Van Ofen cites Blinky Palermo and Michael Asher as two of his idols then. He soon came to do something that was considered drastic and extremely provocative at the time, however: abandoning minimalism and conceptual art, he resorted to 19th century landscapes, portraits and history paintings, which he painterly reduced to near-abstraction. Van Ofen has since become known for his virtuoso brushstrokes that seem effortless while capturing an original composition with extreme precision.
It is the same precision that marks van Ofen’s three murals on the gallery’s top floor: the three rear walls of the exhibition space, each framed by the listed building’s particular structure and curved ceilings, are painted in glossy monochromatic black and white lacquer. The murals’ perfectly shiny surfaces mirror the ceiling lights, the windows and also the viewers vis-á-vis. Turning into windows that open up to a hidden space behind them, they seem like theatre stages populated by the visitors’ reflections. The duality of the colours black and white becomes tangible: it is not reduced to associations of good and evil (though cynically, van Ofen has painted one white and two black murals as a tribute to the challenging times we live in), but the physical perception of space is altered by the monochrome surfaces. The light changes, the senses perceive differently, one is awkwardly made aware of one’s reflection. Simultaneously, the viewer’s attention is attracted by tiny flaws in the walls that are made all the more visible in contrast to their glossy surface. This struggle between perfection and truth is reflected in the exhibition’s title, Werk und Welt (œuvre and world).