(First published 3rd October 2006)
The first New York show by Rosa Loy offers a useful starting point, although it did not draw reviews from the major journals. Stylistically, it was interesting for a number of reasons. As yet another Leipzig–based artist, Loy is linked with the New Leipzig School, and its noted communal studios, yet her work offers interesting differences from either the architectural themes in work by David Schnell or Martin Kobe (and similar Germans, such as Christian Hellmich) or the figurative or person-based concerns of Neo-Rauch (or Dresdener, Eberhard Haverkost).
Rauch is by far the school’s most prominent artist, winning the Van Gogh Award for Contemporary Art in Maastricht in 2002, and exhibiting widely. His work combines both architectural and figurative themes. Like Loy, he is represented by David Zwirner in New York. Loy’s figures, like Rauch’s, stress distinctive costume, stilted spatial arrangements, or fragmentation, and dream-like or mysterious behaviour. But Rauch bases his drawing in 1950/60’s instructional illustration and deals with collective and corporate activities, often bizarre production or cultivation gone awry or slipshod, and their failure carried through to the construction or spatial integrity of the picture. The pictures founder under a flawed world, or a world founders within flawed pictures.
Loy’s drawing by contrast is less firm; literally and as stylistic reference. The style is not as clearly connected to its somewhat gothic or romantic world. The paintings thus strain to depict their world or distinguish the style; to strictly identify a genre. But since she is linked to The New Leipzig School, style prompts us to look for this in her work, to look at how the picture echoes its world.
Loy’s style is described as ‘folksy’ in the Zwirner press release, as ‘girlie’ - deliberately effete or faux naïf - by some viewers. Costume and conduct for her figures have less to do with social and industrial forces than private and psychological situations. Costumes are of uncertain period, as in Desorientierung (Disorientation) (2006), stressing masculine or feminine roles, formality, suggesting fetishes (the gloves, fur trim and white stockings) perhaps literary (particularly German Romanticism) or mythical roles. Potentially, her work presents an intriguing addition to The New Leipzig School. Yet the style is never really about Romanticism or Expressionism or even Camp, in the way that Rauch’s is about social instruction and failure, or architectural works are about remote plans and projections, because Loy does not find an appropriate or telling genre – fairy tale illustration, say, or Art Nouveau symbolism – against which to display her interests.
One can almost imagine a New Leipzig School artist deconstructing pictures from such sources, and exploiting similar psychological terrain. Actually an artist like Norbert Bisky (German, but not of Leipzig) uses another dated illustrational style to pursue male adolescent and homoerotic themes, somewhat as a masculine counterpart to Loy. But Loy’s style seems either too weak for the world depicts, or the world too strong for her pictures. Perhaps the balance will come with later development. Equally, one can imagine Loy matching her style to more accommodating genres.
The work of Elizabeth Peyton or Karen Kilimnik offers interesting comparison in this regard. Both cultivate a tentative, ‘girlie’ style, a coy expressionism, each concentrates on an acute genre. Peyton specialises in the portrait of the teen idol, Kilimnik in ponies and ballet, or fairytale settings. The ‘girlie’ style is strikingly matched to a ‘girlie’ world, or genre, provides unexpected humour. Then again the style need not stress the feminine or immature. An artist such as Luc Tuymans shares a similar tentativeness, heightened by an aversion to colour and body in paint. He deals in genres of photography, in political, historical and scientific subjects, amongst others and the results express contempt rather than teasing for the world and its pictures. But perhaps that is not so far removed from the shambles of a Rauch or the aimless perspectives of Schnell or Kobe.
One suspects Loy has a more elusive world and attitude in mind. It remains to be seen how or how much she captures it. Still, it is a useful demonstration of how styles channel pictorial meaning, sometimes deny as well as demand certain expectations.