15 October 2021 to spring 2023
at the foyer of Museum Würth 2, Künzelsau
In the early 1960s Horst Antes, born in 1936 in Heppenheim, created a visual idea with his magical Cephalopods (Kopffüßler) that inspired him to apparently countless variations over the years. These have since entered collections around the world, not only in paintings and prints but in the form of sculptures, singly or in groups, in a range of materials and formats. Antes, who held professorships in Karlsruhe and Berlin from 1965 to 2000, derived this versatile motif from a great interest in ethnological objects, early religions, the realm of the spirits, magic and rituals. Many of his figures were shown in attitudes of prayer or adoration, or suffering from stigmatization. In some works Antes adopted elements of Hopi Indian cosmology, in others Christian iconography. The gestural approach of the early phase was followed by classical compositions recalling Piero della Francesca (15th century), featuring heads in stringent profile rather than frontal view. In Antes' eyes, these represented the “vessel” in which a person stores his or her experiences and individual memories.
The early 1980s brought a radical reorientation. Disgusted at the barbaric and “brainless” Falkland War in 1982, in which the United Kingdom and Argentina fought over the remote islands of that name, Antes gave up figures almost entirely. Now his trademark Cephalopods appeared at the most as ghostly silhouettes in the midst of hermetic, minimalistic architectural motifs.
Instead, there emerged mysterious and seemingly ceremonial Votives made of shimmering sheet gold. The transcendental, translucent “reality” of the scenes displayed in plexiglass housings calls to mind the spiritual imagination of the Hopi Indians. They have the appearance of protected, light-flooded alternative spheres to the absorbing darkness and self-contained effect of the House pictures. Yet even here, Antes continued his search for the fundamentals of human existence.
Starting with a type of house derived from the rural Tuscan casa colonica, houses began increasingly to appear in his work, one, then two, and finally whole series of houses, culminating in an entire village (The Large Village, 1988-89) consisting of reduced, windowless architectural structures.
Closely if not exclusively concerned with human existence, these architectural dwellings possess a formulaic nature that suggests the human habitat per se, where we are born, come of age, and die, and where life and life projects are manifested. With the “vase” symbol of his houses Antes succeeded in creating a further existential formula that retained its validity even when human figuration is absent. For “the house,” says Antes, “is the figure.”
Living for decades mainly in Tuscany, the painter subjected his palette to a similar reduction. While earlier works (e.g. Figure Maya V, 1961) were dominated by bright hues, the reduced tonality of his later gray and black-based paintings looked as if the light in them had been extinguished. Yet when viewed under certain angles of impinging light, the profound gray and black gradations take on subtle tinges of matte red, brown, ocher or dove blue, reflections that occasionally recall the art of Georges de la Tour from the seventeenth century.
A knowledgeable collector of South American Indian feather adornments and Hopi kachina dolls, which over the years have grown into significant study collections, as well as historic schoolbooks and toy robots, which bear a baffling resemblance to kachina dolls, Antes has added new facets to his reputation. He views his collecting activity, like his drawing, as a “school of seeing” that provides creative stimuli for his painting process.
Comprising 95 works from his key phases, the Antes holdings reflect Reinhold Würth's great admiration for the artist, and represent one of the defining aspects of the Würth Collection.