Friedrich Kunath re-envisions cliché. His varied work is a pastiche of disparate influences that, through their oppositions, find a droll and sublime harmony.
Kunath’s practice is saturated in nostalgia, irony and comic self-pity. His work predominantly centres around painting, but also spans sculpture, installation and film. Drawing from across art history and popular culture, Kunath amalgamates unlikely stylistic combinations. Landscapes of tropical beaches, forests, and caves, paired with fragments of still life, recall 19th century Romanticism, Northern Baroque painting, as well as familiar postcard clichés.
- Group show, Learn to Read, at the Tate Modern, London, 2007
- Solo show Hammer Projects: Friedrich Kunath at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2010
- Group show, Watercolour, at the Tate Britain, London, 2011
- Solo show, Live Forever, at Blum & Poe, Tokyo, 2019
- Work in collections inc. MoMA, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Hammer Museum
The works merge abstraction and representation with a bright, eye-catching palette and heavy textural contrast: thick oil impasto sits against thin washes of watercolour, and single-line illustrations are scribbled and scratched into the surface. The surreal scenes are undercut by phrases and song lyrics reminiscent of a teenagers diary confessions. This candid sense of humour underpins Kunath’s oeuvre, and addresses ubiquitous themes such as love, loss and failure with refreshing wit and relatable honesty.
All Your Fears Trapped Inside was Kunath’s solo show in 2019 at JTT Gallery in New York. The focus of the exhibition was an installation that presented a cluttered bedroom behind a glass wall, separating the corner of the gallery. A bed, a lamp and shelves were surrounded by personal objects, and a collection of the artist’s own paintings hung on the walls alongside appropriated images. Above the bed, was a painting of bed: Never Liked You, But Still Nostalgic (2019). This meta gesture was iterated in a cast iron sculpture of a man with a cage on his head who—from outside the glass wall—gazed on pensively at the installation.
Thus, Kunath separates himself from his past selves, while simultaneously connecting his personal life to his life as an artist. In this way, Kunath ironically historicises the figure of the artist, probing fundamental questions of existence, legacy and personal freedom.
Kunath’s practice is framed by a constant stand-off between sincerity and insincerity. This fundamental opposition highlights the difficult task of the sublime: to express immaterial feelings though material forms. The frustration of being unable to adequately express extreme human emotion, reaches breaking point in Kunath’s work. Phrases such as “FUCK IT, I LOVE YOU” and “SAD OPTIMISM” express a nihilistic resignation to cheesy tropes.
However, the exaggerated honesty in Kunath’s work undoes the clichés that it draws from, and propels them back to their core meaning. It is as though Kunath ‘lets go’ of any attempt for authenticity, and in doing so, creates work that is deeply authentic. Kunath’s strange mix of aesthetic styles, humour and nostalgic teenage angst, cleverly unpicks universal experiences with charming and apathetic sentimentality.
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