Karin Kneffel (*1957 in Marl) lives and works in Düsseldorf. 1977–81: studied German and philosophy. 1981-87: studied under Johannes Brus, Norbert Tadeusz, and Gerhard Richter at the Staatliche Kunstakademie (State Art School, Düsseldorf). 1994: Lingener Art Prize. Professorship at the Hochschule für Künste (College of Fine Arts, Bremen) and the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts, Munich). Numerous exhibitions, including shows at Haus Esters in Krefeld, and the Kunsthalle Tübingen (Tübingen Art Museum).
Between verisimilitude and seductive illusion
“In art, you are creating a doubt about something that you don’t quite understand yourself.” (Karin Kneffel)
When photography and multi-media became favorites in the art world, and the end of painting was prophesized, Karin Kneffel began working with canvas, brush, and paint—and has kept a steady course all the while.
In opposition to all other opinions, Kneffel believed and still believes that there is nothing—no genre, no subject—that cannot be painted. The artist, who studied under Gerhard Richter, countered the skepticism toward classic, purportedly exhausted and complaisant themes with her landscapes, still lifes, and pictures of animals, fruit, and interiors. But none of it is a repetition of the familiar. Her masterful, beguiling visual language flows from tangible presence, to verisimilitude, to seductive illusionism.
Kneffel’s paintings look realistic, yet, upon closer inspection, all certainties vanish, and the viewer feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under him. Kneffel’s subtle tactics of alienation become apparent: the suggestive vortex, which starts with the hyperrealistic methods of depiction, is followed by an unmistakable demand that we suspect the character of the image. The extreme framing, the painstakingly precise details, the precipitous links between foreground and background, the fascinating reflections, and the amusingly distinguished textures and colors combine to question the reality depicted, so that a second glance affords a view of Kneffel’s conceptuality. Perspectives are broken up; reflections develop lives of their own. “In art,” Kneffel once remarked, “you are creating a doubt about something that you don’t quite understand yourself. That’s what drives me. Works of art create something to hang onto, which disappears the moment you try to grasp it.”
Kneffel’s virtuoso methods of playing with different levels of reality are strongly apparent in a cycle of paintings called Haus am Stadtrand (House on the Edge of Town, 2009), which was commissioned for the Esters House in Krefeld. Her work is a direct reference to the history of the red brick villa built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but it also alludes to the significance of the house today. From the few surviving documents, she has called up an almost irrevocable presence from the past, which had long since yielded to the chilly reality of the museum. The painting of the soiree, with a luxuriantly patterned carpet in the foreground (see figure), not only plays with realities on the creative level of the painting, but a ghostly conversation actually takes place, with the past and the present encountering each other: the long-dead members of the Esters family meet the people currently at the museum. Kneffel used an old photo from the 1930s as the basis for a silent dialogue between the living and the dead, presenting a kind of visual commentary, as Martin Hentschel said, which simultaneously reflects the entire cycle of paintings. The impressive, eponymous monograph, Haus am Stadtrand, shows the artist’s exploration of a place and its history, both past and present.
August 2, 2010 Caroline Schilling