Mondo Reverso

Location and Working Hours
Open daily 11:00-19:00 Monday and Sunday Closed
Christian Achenbach
07. Mar 13. Apr. 2024 11 - 19

Mondo Reverso: Christian Achenbach

If we had a device to reveal past lives, we could prove beyond doubt that Christian Achenbach is the reincarnation of the Qing dynasty painter Wang Hui. This fact has gone unnoticed by critics of his work, who usually describe it as postmodern. Nothing is further from the cold and mental creations of postmodernism than the joyful and musical work of Achenbach.

The pictorial reincarnation of Wang Hui is not only evident in the perspective that Achenbach adopts in his landscapes, identical to that of the Chinese painter, but in how both aspire to achieve a communion between their creation and the history of art. It is easy to fall into the temptation of considering the borrowings that Achenbach takes from the different currents of Western art as a postmodern attitude, however, his gesture reproduces that of Wang Hui, who synthesized in his work the different currents of almost a millennium of chinese painting. The synthesis that both make is, precisely, their innovation. Their sources are recognizable, but they deviate from their model because they do not limit themselves to imitating the past, they reinvent it and make it their own. Both choose themes that have a long tradition – such as landscapes – to draw on a greater number of references from the past. Achenbach and Wang Hui descend from the lineage of Dong Qichang, for whom “copying a style is easy; “Spiritual communion with the ancients is what is difficult.”

Now, Wang Hui lived in the walled China of the 18th century and, on the other hand, Achenbach lives in the cosmopolitan Berlin of the 21st century and has at his disposal the artistic explorations of the Romantics, the Fauves, all the artistic avant-garde of the 20th century, postmodern art and what came before and after. He also knows his own work as Wang Hui. For this reason, in Achenbach’s paintings we find surreal trees or cubist mountains; Sometimes, he takes Paul Cézanne’s maxim to the canvas: everything “is reduced to the cube, the cone and the cylinder” and adopts the fierce coloring of Joan Miró or takes the rigid and controlled form of squares from the Op Art tradition. in black and white by Victor Vasarely, on which he adds the opposite, chaotic and out of control technique of dripping used by Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism. Achenbach, like Wang Hui, uses art’s past as a repository of materials to bring his own mental landscapes to life.

The main difference between Achenbach and Wang Hui is, without a doubt, that the latter never played drums in a punk music band. Achenbach, yes. And he played jazz and experimental rock. Perhaps that is why, for him, combining colors is not very different from putting together the notes that create a chord. Furthermore, Achenbach not only explores the parallels between musical and pictorial creation but also, in his words, “I try to make my paintings sound. It’s something intuitive. I listen to the colors.” This ability – to hear colors or see the color of a musical note – is called chromasthesia and is also part of the tradition of art. Vasili Kandinsky, for whom colors were the sound of the soul, wanted to create a painting as if it were a symphony that, when looked at, not only stimulated the eye, but also the ear. The mountains, trees and rivers in Achenbach’s paintings vibrate and undulate like sound frequencies; The effect is reminiscent of the visuals of a trip with psychedelics and increases when, along with the vibration of geography, Achenbach installs Vasarely’s optical games. In the video Terra Incógnita, Achenbach musicalizes the lines and shapes of his works, in an act of deference so that, like him, we can hear the colors.

Wang Hui, through Achenbach, frees himself from realism to construct a reality governed exclusively by pictorial principles. Each element in the work of the German painter, whether a river or a cube, are archetypes whose function is none other than aesthetic enjoyment. Achenbach, like Wang Hui, continues to explore the materials of tradition to construct the landscapes of his mondo reverso, a world that does not exist outside of the canvas.

Alan Meller