The exhibition of the Californian artist Allen Ruppersberg (b. 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio) is determined by four elements that, despite their formal difference, are connected in regard to content and thus form a unity.

First, there is the exhibition poster with the reproduction of the famous painting "Et in Arcadia ego" by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), a classical-heroic landscape painting that can be read as an allegory of transience.

The room in Portikus is characterised by a striking chequer-board patterned floor-covering forming the austere foil for black and white letters that combine to words. Date, salutation and signature define the text as a letter in which nine names of famous creative personalities and their biographical data are listed. They comprise artists (de Kooning, Lichtenstein, Huebler, Byars, Kippenberger), writers (Burroughs, Ginsberg), an architect (Rossi), and a movie actor (Mitchum), who all died in 1997.

A second reference is made to each of these persons in the exhibition. Details of their obituaries published in newspapers appear enlarged on a total of five sheets that, like the letter, have a special form. The letters are pencil-drawn and the texts arranged on the sides of the sheets, so that the drawings, hung above each other, create in their midst a blank space in the form of a white column.

The sense of unity between floor-covering and drawings is not only rendered by the last sentence of the letter: "What now? I think I'll start a new series of drawings", but also by the corresponding utilisation of black and white, as well as positive and negative forms. Column and floor, the vertical and horizontal, symbolise, as does the reduction in colour, the antipodes of life and death.

However, Ruppersberg does not conjure up morbidity. Through the great deal of time needed to draw, he introduces the aspect of time, a measurable dimension that stands for finiteness and therefore for life. Ruppersberg's act of drawing is also a tribute to the named persons; in being chosen subjectively, however, they refer back to the artist himself. During the time invested in drawing, he could appropriate their spirit, as it were, so that they live on beyond death in his art.

The last element is the series of "Poster Objects" from 1988, but here placed in a new context. The 26 "Poster Objects" are printed in conspicuous colours on surfaces made of natural materials such as glass and steel. Their messages "What should I do?", "Why do we fail?" or "Where should I go?" directly address the viewer. The fundamental significance of these questions refer to life, as does the naturalness of their materiality. By both standing on the floor and leaning on the wall they link the horizontal and the vertical.

With the theme of this exhibition, Ruppersberg takes up his earlier works both in regard to form and content. Time and again, the artist - working since the late 60s - falls back on the topics of time, life, and death. His preferred media include words and texts.


Photos: Katrin Schilling