Working with a wide range of media, his practice encompasses painting, sculpture and installation. Elfgen explores his subject matter, nature and particularly the symbolism of animals from a highly romantic point of view, which can certainly be located in the tradition of German idealism, but which is also indicative of the artist's biography.
Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers are delighted to present the first solo exhibition of Robert Elfgen (*1972 in Wesselingen am Rhein, Germany) at their gallery in Cologne. After his studies at the Academy of Arts in Braunschweig (class of John Armleder) and at the Academy of Arts in Düsseldorf (class of Rosemarie Trockel), the artist realized solo exhibitions in Cologne (Simultanhalle), London (Westlondonprojects) and in Munich (Sprüth Magers Projects) as well as projects in public spaces. Robert Elfgen received the Peter-Mertes-Stipendium of the Bonner Kunstfonds, the studio scholarship of the Bonner Kunstverein and the award of the federal state NRW for young artists. Robert Elfgen lives and works in Cologne.
“If the bee disappeared from the face of the earth, mankind would survive four more years; no bees, no pollination, no animals, no humans…”
Albert Einstein describes the ostensibly innocuous role that the small insect plays in our ecosystem as a defining paradigm of our existence. Robert Elfgen’s solo show in Cologne “des bien ich” (“this is me, bee”) follows this thread and presents the “Bien” (“bee”/”to be”) as a metaphor for the relentlessly recurring questions of being.
The central piece of the exhibition is the “Bienenmann” (“the bee-man”): Dressed in a bee keeper’s suit and shoes he sits upright against the gallery wall, while an old beehive covers his head. Two large format tarsia works on either side of him show two facing and mutually mirroring greyhounds posed as guards. Two owls and two rabbits complete the symmetrical composition. The effect refers the objects to each other as well as to themselves: like two facing mirrors they reveal an abysmal infinity in an articulation of the beginning and end of all things.
The gallery’s walls are populated by bees. Variations of different bee swarm formations modulate the surfaces of changing images with colours that alternate in accordance with the light. The visually seductive effect of these various color-ways and the geometric structure seem to lend a third dimension to the two-dimensional works. Like a window unraveling a new perspective, an abstract landscape takes shape which references the schematic perception of bees.
The illusion of unlimited space is further enhanced by the installation of abstracted beehives that are hung at different heights from the gallery ceiling. White plastic barrels on the floor and alternating color surfaces simulate leaking paint. Emotionally charged titles turn the splurges into the feelings and affections that have defined life ever since.
The abstraction of the bee-world leads to substantial questions that not only drive the motor of creative processes in the fine arts but epitomize the omnipresent striving for perfection and harmony. As progressive and far developed as our world seems today, the perfection of a bee colony and of nature remains unachieved. The “Bien” describes a colony of hundreds of insects as one unit, whose general functionality compares to the organism of a mammal. The title “des bien ich” prompts the viewer to consider the bigger contexts of our contrived world back to the microcosm of the sum and the swarm of aspects of our existence. “des bien ich” – what exactly? And how many?
Opening: Tuesday, 13 May, 6-9pm
Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers Ltd
7A Grafton Street London, W1S 4EJ
opening hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 6pm and by appointment