For this 90th birthday tribute, focus will be placed on the artist’s monumental paintings from the 1970s. Assembled from diverse prestigious museums and private collections, the loans document the starting point for Franz Gertsch’s rich oeuvre of paintings, drawings and prints. This birthday exhibition is not a reflection on age, nor has it been conceived as a recapitulatory retrospective. By concentrating on Gertsch’s works from the 1970s, the show celebrates a period of youthful innovation. It brings together highlights from this phase of the artist’s work, during which he attracted international attention and recognition after being discovered by such renowned curators and exhibition organisers as Jean-Christophe Ammann and Harald Szeemann. The show at the Museum Franz Gertsch will demonstrate that his works from that time have lost none of their pioneering spirit and mesmerising impact.
Gertsch’s commitment to (photo) realism can be dated to the year 1969, when he discovered the medium of photography for himself as the foundation of his art. His painting ‘Huaa...!’ – which shows a horseman at full gallop – is modelled after a film still from ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ that he found reproduced in the magazine Salut les Copains. The source image becomes something fundamentally different in the painting. By massaging the paint into the cotton support, the work attains a vibrating painterly quality. Since then, photographs – usually taken by the artist himself – have made up the starting point for his work as a kind of preliminary sketch or ‘score’.
It is at this point, as it were, that Gertsch began observing his environment through the camera lens. He took snapshots of his young family, for example the children Silvia, Hanne-Lore and Brecht in the bathtub or his wife Maria picnicking with their son Benz. Translated to large-format paintings based on these models with everyday scenes, Gertsch’s family paintings have a vital and atmospheric quality. While travelling in the South of France, he captured with his camera some Roma and Sinti girls playing in front of him on the beach. Gertsch in turn transforms the photographs on which his ‘Saintes Maries de la Mer’ cycle is based into distinctive monumental paintings.
In the early 1970s, Franz Gertsch began accompanying his young Lucerne artist colleague Luciano Castelli (born 1951). The zeitgeist of a whole generation concentrates itself in his person, in the diverse faces he assumes in his chameleon-like transformations. Gertsch’s dense individual paintings and multi-figured constellations showing Luciano with his friends (Marina, Barbara, Gaby, Irene and Franz) represent a cosmos that thrives on the tension between vibrating reality and imaginative poetic interpretation.
While the depictions of his family and the brilliantly coloured paintings of Luciano Castelli make an extraverted impression, the five large-format paintings dedicated to the rock poet Patti Smith (born 1946) are more reserved as regards colour and introverted in approach. The exhibition concludes with Franz Gertsch’s ‘Selbstporträt’ [Self-Portrait]’, in which the now 50-year-old artist presents himself completely unstaged. His sweeping gaze seems to be turned away from external events and focused on an inner personal reality.