Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers London is pleased to announce its first solo exhibition of the German artist Robert Elfgen.
A student of John Armleder and Rosemarie Trockel, Elfgen graduated in 2001 and has been showing internationally since 2005. Working with a wide range of media, his practice encompasses painting, sculpture and installation. Whilst his veneer works of forest animals are beautifully crafted, the D.I.Y. aesthetic of Elfgen’s sculptures and installations is indicative of the artist’s artisanal, hands-on approach to art. Elfgen explores his subject matter, nature and particularly the symbolism of animals from a highly romantic point of view, which can certainly be located in the tradition of German idealism, but which is also indicative of the artist’s biography. Growing up in rural Germany, Elfgen refers to the rituals of childhood and the anthropomorphic powers of his pets in order to open up a vocabulary of symbolic images which is at once personal and universal. Appropriating the surrealist method of displacement, the artist seeks to re-create nature’s symbolic order in the gallery space.
Elfgen’s installations are arranged as metaphorical systems, in which objects and animals are carefully positioned in relation to each other and to the viewer. For the current exhibition Antriebswelle (Driveshaft), Elfgen has transformed his own car, a former ambulance, into a sculpture. The vehicle, which has accompanied Elfgen throughout his artistic career, first as a mode of transportation and finally as his artwork, is a work-in-progress, changing colour and meaning every time it is displayed. Recycling his old car by turning it into art shifts the notion of the consumer object into a new political context, which in an era of climate change and environmental threat, radically changes the wider implications of the ready-made in art. The surrealist act of de-contextualising everyday objects has been key to a number of his works, such as the video Schutzman (Constable), in which Elfgen sent an old policeman dummy down the river Rhine and Motorschaden (Engine Breakdown), which presented Elfgen’s motorcycle as sculpture.
Elfgen’s keen interest in the social and architectural systems of beehives and their cultural meaning in Western history has lead to a new and intriguing body of work, also on display in the exhibition. The life of bees has been central to European culture, ranging from Cicero’s idea that memory is structured like a beehive, to Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and Joseph Beuys’ Honey Pump. Further exploring the cultural meaning of bees, Elfgen has produced a series of wood veneer panels showing swarms of bees in front of an abstract background. The panels have been painted with industrial car paint, which creates a dark, shimmering effect. The relationship between the black spots of the bees and the spatial depth of the abstract patterns create an optical effect oscillating between two- and three-dimensional space, between figuration and abstraction. In addition, Elfgen has placed a number of small and large stains on the gallery floor. The shiny surface of the stains, which again have been produced by car paint, recall the mesmerizing look of oil stains but could also be interpreted as pools of honey. For Elfgen, the stain has a crucial meaning, since its abject character symbolises the human aspect in today’s over-industrialised world. As their titles suggest, these stains stand for hope (Hoffnung), love (Liebe) and memory (Gestern).
Robert Elfgen’s work has been presented in solo exhibitions at Westlondonprojects, London (Expedition) 2006, Kunstverein Bonn(1+1=3 Elfgen Technik), 2005 and at the Kulturzentrum Antwerp in 1999. Group exhibitions include The Class of Rosemarie Trockel at the Kunstverein Gelsenkirchen, 2002 and Lieber Friedrich at the Kunstverein Kassel, 2006. He has also collaborated with Kai Althoff in Paul Thek. Werkschau im Kontext Zeitgenössischer Kunst which was shown at the ZKM Karlsruhe, 2007 and Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg, 2008. He has been exhibiting with Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers since 2004 and was this year awarded the Junger Kunstpreis, NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen).