Artistic photo of man seated against wall
Daily Distraction of Living, Ludwig Rauch. Image courtesy of MdbK.

MdbK: Rauch’s Portrait and Abstraction


Photographer Ludwig Rauch’s exhibition, called “Portrait and Abstraction” is currently on show at the Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig. It opened on Tuesday, 13 October 2022, and runs until 8 January 2023. The show combines photographic portraits of mainly Leipzig-based artists and works in which the artist explores the limits of his medium.

The exhibition is laid out in three adjoining rooms, with the portraits in the main room and the abstract works arranged in two adjacent rooms. There is no specific start- and end-point to the exhibition. This allows you to wander through the spaces, making connections between the different types of pictures.

Oval shapes against light and dark background
Point of no Return, Ludwig Rauch. Image courtesy of MdbK.

The portraits are a mix of black and white and colour, ranging from extreme close-ups to long shots. One thing that struck me and my companion as we looked at all of them was that each of the subjects seemed completely at ease. The portraits are of visual artists, people usually more comfortable behind the canvas (or lens) than in front of it. Hence it must take some skill to bring them to that point. The pictures were taken over a span of four decades, yet none of them seems in the least dated.

Rauch reveals something of himself with these portraits: his own longing for dimensions of invention and sensitivity that are available to painters.

The second part of Rauch’s exhibition, his abstract works, shows that photographic means can also be used to explore those subjective and alien worlds that are often reserved for painters. Having taken a good look at all the portraits, we moved into the two adjacent rooms, to the abstract works. And what a treat those two rooms held! When we say that Rauch tests the limits of his medium, it is no exaggeration. Some works, Daily Distraction of Living, for example, seem too detailed and unreal to be photographs. The textures and layers with which he enriches his other works seem to give physical depth to some pieces. We were tempted to squint and inspect them up close, just to see if they really were “just” inkjet-printed photographs.

Flowers against dark background
Nordic Walking, Ludwig Rauch. Image courtesy of MdbK.

Some of the pieces exhibit intense colouring.

Colours that have transparency and depth, to the point where they possess qualities such as weight and blurriness. Other works, on the other hand, are reminiscent of fine art or seem like microscopic photographs of the inside of things. Thus revealing worlds that lie beneath the surface. Some are simply unidentifiable. Just nebulous forms without detail, although they manage to evoke an emotional response, nonetheless. One or two pieces made me uneasy, but not a single one left me cold, without any feeling at all.

Dried flowers against black background
Natural Lines, Ludwig Rauch. Image courtesy of MdbK.

The whimsy of the Natural Lines series. The hauntingly sparse images in Current Traces. The gut-punching images of the female form in Falling Down I and II. The artist plays with his medium, layering textures over colours and surreal images over prosaic normality. Sometimes, the titles of the pieces themselves were a source of delight. Ninety Percent of Your Dreams Are In Vain, for example. This is a work that is still sitting in my subconscious. Crossing Lines of Reason is another notable example.

Ludwig Rauch was born in Leipzig in 1960.

He studied with Arno Fischer at the Academy of Visual Arts from 1986-1989, before leaving for West Berlin in January 1989. Rauch worked as a photojournalist in the GDR. However, his candid, forthright photographs of coal miners got him banned from publishing in 1986. This ban lasted until the fall of the Wall. In 1991, he was one of the co-founders of the art magazine neue bildende Kunst (New Visual Art). He was the picture editor until the magazine was discontinued in 1999. Today, he teaches at the Berlin Ostkreuzschule. This particular exhibition spans over four decades of his work.

Egg spotted with blue against blue background
No Single Fact, Ludwig Rauch. Image courtesy of MdbK.

My companion on this visit, Julia Kragh, whose artistic opinion I trust above my own, had this to say:

“I think what this exhibition and Ludwig Rauch, himself, does exceptionally well is that he
creates these layers. Of both physical texture and meaning, that we as the spectator/viewer are meant to peel back and discover for ourselves. We are given context when context is due: for example, that the portraits displayed are of other important artists whose work is to be seen in the MdbK. How does that change our perception of these photos, their subjects, the way that they are posed? Maybe you have seen some of their work already on your way to this exhibition – would you feel differently about their work, now that you have seen their faces, too? On the other hand, some of the other parts of his exhibition have no clarification or context provided as to subject matter or meaning.”

Whilst discussing the exhibition afterward, we both felt simultaneously intrigued and frustrated by this opacity of meaning. To the point where we exclaimed, with happy grins, “Keep your secrets, then!” I highly recommend a visit for anyone who enjoys both form and colour without specific meaning. As well as powerful images that play on one’s subconscious assumptions. The pieces are pleasing without being demanding. Ambitious without being exasperating. For those who would like to dive a little deeper, the artist himself will be giving a talk, together with the director, Stefan Weppelmann, at the MdbK on 11 November 2022 at 5 pm.

Nicola Seaton-Clark is an actress and Head of Project Management at Offstimme, an international voice-over company founded by her husband, Peter. She lives in Leipzig with Peter, their two children, and two cats.

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