For many years, Günter Umberg devoted a space alongside his own studio in Köln to a clear project called Raum Für Malerie.
More often than not Raum Für Malerie’s presentations obliged the audience to engage with a single painting in a single room. The implications of being placed in direct relationship with a painting may be liberating for some, and confronting for others – obliged to have at least something to think or feel, if not to say. In a sense exhibitions involving broader installations that are the norm, discharge us from the provocation that such an unwavering dialogue between an object and an audience establishes.
I have long felt that Umberg’s paintings, perhaps more than most any I know, assert a defiant singularity. Each painting, despite continuities in the works’ architecture – the depth or thinness of the object itself, its relationship to the wall and to us, has its own presence and history, its own form. Each painting arouses specific responses to it and in us.
Umberg’s larger groupings, which he titled Territoriums, altered the specifics of that, allowing for correspondence to radiate across a constellation of objects.
Amidst a Territorium the relationship shifted towards a certain dependency. Composition and placement could distribute that pressure, simply by involving more “participants” and thereby releasing us from a responsibility but perhaps also robbing us of an opportunity.
In his new groupings, which are more prosaically titled Plan, we see Umberg employing a new strategy. Plan 3 is comprised of eight individual paintings, seven of which are installed on top of two large panels. Just a single element of this configuration is positioned to the side but is held within this new gravitational field.
The panel’s construction is evident at the sides, a sandwich of MDF and veneer revealed like a partial x-ray. Historically the sides of Umberg’s paintings have been similarly indiscreet…sitting out from the wall, available, never once considering withdrawing to the comfort and modesty of a frame.
The work now has its cake and eats it too. It is without doubt one entity, comprised of paintings made over almost thirty years, reconfigured to give us both composition and inter-relationship, but also coalescing powerfully as a singular form.