Galerie Bugdahn und Kaimer opens its new space in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel with the black-and-white photographs of Ingolf Timpner. It will be the Gallery's fifth solo presentation of work by this artist (preceded by Photoarbeiten, 1995; Nature Morte, 1997; Nocturnes, 1999; and Asservatenkammer, 2001). Timpner, who lives and works in Düsseldorf, was also represented with great success at the Paris Photo fair last year.
Taking the generic title of Wahlverwandtschaften (i.e. Elective Affinities), Timpner began a new set of theme-linked works last year. The key term derives ultimately from chemistry and describes the property of substances of isolating out of existing compounds to fuse with a third element. In his eponymous novella, published in 1809, Goethe projected this phenomenon to the human relationships between four protagonists. Artists in particular, in various art forms, have used the term to express their mental-emotional affinity to other artists, eras and tendencies.
The present show, apart from its individual portraits and still lifes, presents for the first time two compound group portraits. Ohne Titel (Staalmeesters) (Untitled [Staalmeesters]) of 2002 consists of a block of two rows of three photographs each. They show the bust portraits of five male figures holding various Punch-and-Judy figures in their hands. The middle part of the lower set has part of an art book fastened to it with wire; there the words, "Staalmeesters" and "Rembrandt" are discernible. The pictorial space is defined by the historical interior of Bremen's town hall. The other group portrait, Ohne Titel (Nachtwache) (Untitled [Night Watch]), completed only this year, is composed of a symmetrical block of nine photographs. Five male and one female figure again hold objects in their hands, this time in more forceful pose. The "attributes" - a flag, a doll, teddy bears and lengths of squared timber - form explicit composition lines within the dynamised overall picture. In the intimate linking of the sitter with the objects, the role of both seems transformed. The contrast between animate and inanimate matter focuses the striking effect of the individuals portrayed. Three still-lifes - drum, glass/skull and brick motifs - make up the lower part of the piece. In this, Timpner's work for the first time brings together the genres of portraiture and still life into one pictorial entity.
The complex effect of these photographic works derives not least from the tension between two planes of time; presence and contemporaneity are set against the foil of a plane of time past, incarnate as much in the historical interior as in vanitas symbols, in old-fashioned dolls and Punch-and-Judy figures. The artist's decision not to integrate objects in a still life arrangement in the traditional way, but to let them stand in their own right as "object portraits", lends them an uncanny and unfamiliar air.
Various forms of "elective affinity" permeate Ingolf Timpner's new cycle of work in filigree ramification. It is no chance that Rembrandt, the "Impressionist before his time", has a particular appeal for him. It resonates in the structure of the Dutch group portrait, recalled in its co-ordination of individual portraits. That synthesising principle turns in Timpner's hands into an analytical dissection. The five portraits in the first set and the six in the second are part of an overall composition that maintains the autonomy of the individual portrait. Another important pictorial principle is the deliberate addressing of the viewer, whose perception of the work completes its reality and on each occasion makes it a current, present element. Finally, the individual sitters in a given group in both artists' work are characterised by their belonging to a social grouping. The sitters also enter into an elective affinity with the quirky objects in their hands. In addition, Timpner's artistic procedure has the effect of subjecting the individuals to a "material" transformation. Only the medium of photography brings certain traits and physical aspects "to light". In all this the art-historical subtext forms a kind of background colour; that Timpner's works should perfectly realise their potential with or without it only testifies to their mastery and power.