20 MAY – 9 JULY 2016

We are delighted to present the first exhibition of Lukas Schmenger at VAN HORN.

The lost face
As if we were seeing a face, a head for the first time. “The most entertaining surface on earth” , as Georg Christoph Lichtenberg once described the human face, entices us to roam across it as if in a landscape. The eye feels its way over mountain ranges and gently modelled plains, flinching from fissures and abysses. The busts and masks of Lukas Schmenger confront the viewer so unfamiliar and so aloof that words lose their power. Nothing is superfluous any more by virtue of our knowing what to call it. The definitions of the forehead, cheeks and chin, eyes, nose and mouth usually anatomize what now in its nameless transitions – imperceptible and abrupt – can be observed as a whole; this makes us stand in awe. This becoming speechless accompanies aesthetic experience – the “NOW THIS HERE”, as Rémy Zaugg expressed it so concisely and to the point. The experience of immediate presence in view of the artwork is intensified through the confrontation with a counterpart that need not be living in order to put us under its spell. (…)

Lukas Schmenger’s sculptures are no portraits. They seek no competition with life; rather they are instantly recognizable as dead artefacts. Following from this, historical insight speaks to the unseizable element (Unvereinnehmbarkeit, Max Imdahl) of the human countenance, to the immanent contradictions of the portrait, as Hans Belting characterized them:
“A portrait interrupts or arrests the flow of time that always changes the expression of the face. It also shuts down facial gestures or expressions that occur in living features. Paradoxically, only by dispensing with countenance is a face emphatically brought to the epitome of itself. Yet this happens at the cost of it becoming a mask that can bear no similarity whatsoever to a living face.” Lukas Schmenger draws the consequence of this experience, and from the first for his casts and sculptures he takes the rigid mask as a starting point for his exploration of human physiognomy. If the notion of the portrait can claim any validity at all, then at best in the sense of that paradoxical ‘general portrait’ that the artist refers to. (…)
Lukas Schmenger’s masks and heads are not only maimed from the rear view. Their skin, if you can even call it that, is pitted, chapped, cut into pieces. The imagination cannot actually even arise (…)

The acting out of production and the commitment to conditionality and contingency shed a decidedly sceptical light on humankind whose image since the Renaissance traditionally spoke of self-determination, power of control and independence. (…)

Before Lukas Schmenger began to sculpt heads, he was already painting them. He only transferred to the three-dimensional subject about two years ago. That’s astonishingly late, if one bears in mind that Lukas Schmenger studied at the City of Düsseldorf Art Academy in Thomas Grünfeld’s sculpture class. There are quite similar faces with strong masculine
characteristics, without any kind of facial expression which Schmenger prefers to paint with oil on aluminium, but also on paper.

The traces of the brush and the effects resulting from the smooth painting surface may largely be read representationally, albeit with a tendency to autonomy. The colour material as such always remains present. It is never entirely absorbed in the colouristic tonal quality or in the rendition of the subject. Like oil paint flows and drips, is smeared, creates marbled veins and branches out, here covering the surface impasto, there seemingly translucent, the eye seduces into a microcosm. Lukas Schmenger’s painting is made for the close-up view. (…)
Those undeterred by darkness and small formats from stepping closer to Lukas Schmenger’s paintings will be rewarded with a delicate painting that leaves not the slightest doubt that human heads (…) most definitely represent contemporary pictorial subjects.

The return to the now obsolete motif of the image of man at one time for Lukas Schmenger originally meant ‘punk’ – a revolt against ironical narcissism and bad painting vanities. This only caused fatigue in the long run. In particular, in Düsseldorf other artists like Thomas Schütte had already confronted the “scandal of figural sculpture” (Theodora Vischer) . Lukas Schmenger could cite such revisions of figural work. Yet his art has no need of historic legitimacy. Its distinguishing quality is its depth whereby it is anchored in our memory of images.

Excerpts from a text by Thomas Heyden, in Lukas Schmenger: Adorant, 2015.