In his hometown Leipzig, the Museum der Bildenden Künste, and in Munich, the Pinakothek der Moderne, show 120 large oil paintings from 1993 – 2010. Especially in Leipzig, you can still smell the fresh paint of the works. The two museums managed to get the majority of the works from private collections, who did not show them publicly before.
Neo Rauch developed a personal style, which could be called a fusion of pop art, surrealism and socialist realism. I think he is a very ‘German’ painter: His objects derive often from GDR propaganda paintings, 1950s characters and old-fashioned user’s manuals. The scenes are overlapping and often of melancholic mood. They frequently depict absurd unsuccessful efforts. In his paintings, you can see many references to art history from Caspar David Friedrich to Anselm Kiefer.
Many critics like the absurd narrative of his paintings. Rauch said during the press conference in Leipzig, ‘If one would understand my paintings right away, this would be an accident, this should not happen.’
Rauch gained his fame in the last 15 years during the boom of the art market. His enormous commercial success is closely tied to his long-time art dealer, Judy Lybke. They met in the early 1980s, at the University for Graphic and Book Art (Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst) in Leipzig. Gerd Harry aka 'Judy' Lybke worked there as a nude model for the drawing classes and Neo Rauch was a student with Arno Rink. Mr. Lybke started his underground gallery in Leipzig already in the old days of the Communist GDR regime.
In the years following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, many collectors and curators turned to East Germany and wanted to know what the artists did there. Judy Lybke had the answer: The School of Leipzig.
In contrary to the trends, photography and media art, these young artists from Leipzig were trained in traditional techniques of drawing and painting and made large paintings full of a sentiment of disillusionment. This reflected also the every day life in East Germany.
A noticeably large number of collectors from the US (Don and Mera Rubell, Brad Pitt, to name only two) were hungry for these paintings. At Art Basel Miami Beach 2007, Mr. Lybke could only show a number of Rauch paintings that had already been sold to museums. He was able to sell the paintings before they were even made. The prices exceeded US 1,000,000.
A high-profile collector told me, ‘If you wanted to buy a Neo Rauch in 2007 in the primary market, you had no chance, if you would not have your private museum and promised not to sell it for a longer period. If you wanted to sell it, you would have to offer it to the gallery first.’
This was common practice in these days of an overheated art market. Another prominent art collector from Miami, Craig Robins, recently filed a lawsuit against the David Zwirner Gallery because of similar arrangements with the painter Marlene Dumas.
I think it is mainly envy and this marketing strategy that fuels the new criticism around the work of Neo Rauch. I don't consider Neo Rauch’s works any weaker or stronger, than they were 5 years ago. They are still good paintings in his typical style. This style is just not so new anymore and the hype about it has become less intense.
Even in the difficult market of October 2009, his work ‘Stellwerk (Signal Box)’ of 1999 sold in London for GBP 892,450 (including premium of the auction house). The hammer price was more than GBP 300,000 above the higher estimate.
In February 2010, the large Rauch painting ‘Vorrat (Supply)’ of 1998 could not be sold at Christie’s during the auction also there. It was estimated to sell for GBP 500,000 – 700,000. One day later during the day sale, the painting ‘Die Helfer (The Helpers)’ of 1997 was sold for GBP 623,650 (including premium). Was it a support purchase? I don’t think so - I think 'Vorrat (Supply)' was only a less appealing motif.
I am not sure either, if Neo Rauch really cares about the prices of his works. For him personally, it is hardly a tangible difference if he makes $ 750,000 or $ 1,000,000 per picture. He still works strict 8-hours-a-day shifts in his studio at the Baumwollspinnerei (a transformed former cotton mill) in Leipzig. Typical German work ethic.
by Chris Neuschler
Neo Rauch: ‘Begleiter (companion)’ coinciding at
Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany
Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Germany
Both shows through 15 August 2010