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This Silence is Deceptive

It's best not to get lost in Amelie von Wulffen's architecture: the Berlin-based artist creates collages in which spaces fold out, become doubled, or grow into tremendous labyrinths. Alternating views of interiors and exteriors give rise to enigmatic zones that are no longer mere living landscapes, but portrayals of inner states of the soul. Recently, her extraordinary works have made Amelie von Wulffen into one of the most important German women artists of the day; the Centre Pompidou in Paris just gave her a one-person show, while two upcoming exhibitions in Basel and Düsseldorf are currently in preparation. Christiane Meixner investigates the reasons behind von Wulffen's success.

Untitledl, 2003, Courtesy Galerie Crone Andreas Osarek

Why Amelie von Wulffen? In the midst of the current "Young German Artists" fever of the past several months, international collectors have, of course, been busy buying up every available collage made by the Berlin artist, along with works by Neo Rauch, Daniel Richter , and David Schnell. But it's Amelie von Wulffen alone that the Centre Pompidou has invited to Paris for a large solo show: a rare honor for a German artist under the age of forty, whose works could already be seen in 2003 at the Venice Biennale and a short time later in the Spanish city of San Sebastián at the Manifesta 5. Her next large exhibition will be shown in late summer at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Basel and afterwards at the Düsseldorfer Kunstverein, customized to the new location and augmented by a site-specific work. Yet von Wulffen isn't a typical proponent of the current craze in new German painting, whose crystal-clear motifs might seem realistic, but betray so little about the images' contents that they are disturbing to look at, in spite of their fascination. The artist, who studied at the Kunstakademie in Munich until the mid-nineties, lays claim to a number of individual strategies the descriptions of which can sometimes turn out to be quite disparate.

Untitled, 2000, Courtesy Galerie Crone Andreas Osarek

It was recently written that her collages are "enigmatic," that they come across as being "beautiful" and "dreamy," but also "outlandish" - terms that don't necessarily come to mind when the works, all of which are untitled, are seen for the first time. What one notices first and foremost are the fragments of spaces: rooms from the artist's private inventory of photographs, public swimming pools, hotel lobbies or museums, and everyday buildings alongside more prominent architecture. Amelie von Wulffen glues her photographic images onto large sheets of paper and then transforms them using multiple layers of paint. What stands out most is the discreet palette of hues she uses, favoring a dullish scale ranging from brown to grey in all its gradations. Even the blues and greens are not bright, but remain subdued.

In contrast, the painted gesture comes across as surprisingly coarse. The reproductions are painted over in a matter-of-fact sort of way: at times, walls disappear beneath dense layers of paint, and then all of a sudden the floor tears open and, appearing as though out of nowhere, an endless airplane runway smoothly integrates itself into the original motif alongside the chairs of a conference room. After a while, it becomes clear that the various types of architecture in the images are all part of one homogenous language.

Untitled, 1998, Deutsche Bank Collection

Almost all of them have been assembled together from diverse elements: outdoor facades alternate with interior views, while the utilitarian structure of a modernist building gives way to a respectably furnished living room complete with floral wallpaper and a set of deer antlers. There's no hierarchy here - only the artist's suggestive sequences, arranged according to her own specific concepts.

The marks of paint seemingly strewn across the page have a unifying effect. Indeed, they are placed deliberately, blurring the borders between the real, photographed rooms and the illusory world of images abounding with the mirror reflections, doublings, and montages that Amelie von Wulffen creates. Her images do not have to logically explain why their painterly interventions make them negate gravity completely, letting glass carafes float upside-down on shelves, or why dining rooms mutate into caves and high-rise buildings become surrounded by grey mountains or reproduce themselves in an unreal manner, as in the untitled collage of 1998 in the Deutsche Bank Collection.

The laws of perspective, of course, have also lost their validity here: brush strokes make the rooms expand randomly in every direction, fold in upon themselves, open up, or end abruptly at the foot of a fantastic landscape. Doors are half open, reminiscent of the exalted window views of the Romantics - a metaphor for longing and an iconographic topos. Strangely, however, these painterly additions do not expand the architecture's dimensions, but rather fill them with an emptiness that lies heavy and leaden over the motifs.

Untitled, 2003, Courtesy Galerie Crone Andreas Osarek

There are a handful of recurring protagonists populating Amelie von Wulffen's pictorial spaces. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of these - but also John Travolta, whose head the artist has integrated into her works several times. Here and there, other well-known figures from the late seventies can be detected, but they're not necessarily always the youth idols of that time. What stands out, however, is the romantic gesture Amelie von Wulffen brings to bear in approaching her own period as a teenager; in an untitled series from 2003, for instance, she exposes the photographic paper three times, showing herself with a white horse or situated between blossoming bushes. This series stands out from the other collages, as do the reduced drawings in which von Wulffen addresses her own past, incorporating, among other things, an image of her grandmother. One reason is that they dispense with the painterly gesture entirely, a device that makes the gaps between the motifs more visible: von Wulffen stands like an alien body between the insignia of her dreamy girlish fantasies. Yet the numerous self-portraits are a recurrent symbol, referring as they do to the central reference point of the works: the ego and its subjective memories. It comes as no surprise that there is no matching system of signs to fall back on to decipher the evidence; it remains private, identifiable only to those who come from the same generation as the artist herself.

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