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GÃ¼nther FÃ¶rg, a German painter, sculptor and photographer whose work exemplified, toyed with, tweaked and commented on (sometimes all at once) the broad artistic movement known as modernism, died at his home in Freiburg, Germany, on Dec. 5, his 61st birthday.
The cause was cancer, Jeffrey Rowledge, a spokesman for Mr. FÃ¶rg’s New York gallery, Greene Naftali, said in an email.
A prolific multidisciplinarian whose work is in permanent collections around the world (among them the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Tate Modern in London, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Museum of Modern Art in New York) Mr. FÃ¶rg was both an ambitious artist and a penetratingly intellectual one.
In his early monochromatic works in the 1970s, his later architectural photographs of Bauhaus buildings and his paintings in abstract styles that recall Cy Twombly, Ellsworth Kelly and others, Mr. FÃ¶rg sought to explore the legacy of the modernist aesthetic in a postmodern age. Often working on a large scale, The New York Times once described his paintings as “obliquely grandiose”, he created art not simply as object but also as commentary.
In that service, he often melded or juxtaposed media. His paintings done on bronze, lead, wood and other materials engaged the limitations of both painting and sculpture.
His photographs of buildings with cultural and political significance (Bauhaus structures in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, for example, or Fascist ones in Italy) were taken from unusual, sharp-angled perspectives, with off-center framing and often in grainy focus, suggestive of painting. They depict their subjects as monuments to once formidable movements that have waned, slyly suggesting that some artistic ideas remain stubbornly proud and worthy as the world leaves them behind, but that others simply weaken and wither.
Other photographs expressly evoke movie stills. One of Mr. FÃ¶rg’s best-known images shows a young woman climbing the long outdoor staircase of Villa Malaparte, a celebrated modernist structure that was built in 1942 on a rocky promontory on the island of Capri and that was used as a setting for Jean Luc-Godard’s film Contempt.
In exhibiting his work, Mr. FÃ¶rg seized upon the display space as inherent to the work itself. He painted over gallery walls, included doorways and windows as integral elements, set photographs in opposition to paintings and used framed glass over selected works for its reflective power. The resulting tone, critics often noted, was that of an opinionated observer, plaintive or querulous, mischievous or melancholy.
“Retrospectively, the reason for the continued importance of FÃ¶rg’s oeuvre becomes clear,” the German critic Andreas Schlaegel wrote in 2011. “The evolution of his direct, subjective engagement with the aesthetic of the sublime (conducted without fear of stereotypical taboos) oscillates between appropriation and homage, yet FÃ¶rg does so without any ironic quotations or other such cheap distancing techniques. Instead, he throws mythical ballast overboard and appropriates picture-making strategies in a way that makes them look new.”
Mr. FÃ¶rg was born in FÃ¼ssen, southwest of Munich and near the Austrian border, on Dec. 5, 1952. His father, Michael, worked in a customs office. From 1973 to 1979 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he was a student of Karl Fred Dahmen, a proponent of the school of abstraction known as Art Informel. Among his other early influences was Blinky Palermo, the precocious German abstractionist who was known for his so-called fabric paintings made from colored cloths stretched over a frame.
Mr. FÃ¶rg taught at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. He had a home in Areuse, Switzerland, as well as in Freiburg. In 1993 he married Ika Huber. She survives him, as do his mother, Leonie, and a daughter, CÃ©cile Huber.
â€œGunther Forg, German Artist Who Made Modernism His Theme, Dies at 61â€³, The New York Times obituary of the artist, by Bruce Weber, published December 18, 2013
Biography from the Archives of AskART.