Michael Kunze's 'what Is Metaphysics?' At Coma, Berlin

Michael Kunze, ‘Was ist metaphysik?’ detail from exhibition at Coma, Berlin, 2007.

‘Ingmar Bergman, 1944′.

Rather than presenting a hundred thousand words on the subject, Michael Kunze’s answer to the philosophical question naming his latest painting series engages the viewer in a game of slightly blurry retro-targeted confrontation. His new project shows fragmentary images painted in a rough, slightly faded style (which at times makes me think of El Greco, strangely enough, in its essential economy of marks), quoting characters and scenes from archival photo and film material in order to show a conceptual cycle of tension cushioned starkly by the hollows between theory and practice – a cycle that’s only resolved by balancing abstract contemplation with an acknowledgement of human limitation. ‘What is metaphysics’, showing at Berlin’s COMA til 22 Sept, starts off from a key episode in 20th century philosophical history, a controversial interview between Rudolf Augstein and Martin Heidegger set up by Spiegel, the German magazine in 1967 and only published in 1974, after Heidegger’s death.

The new series seems to be the latest chapter in Kunze’s consideration not just of the interpretation and consequences of philosophical inquiry, but, more broadly speaking, of the development of a post-modern masculinity fraught with conflict, which he recently explored in a show at ZKM entitled ‘Les Messieurs d’Avignon’. In sixty-odd portraits of the ‘bad boys of modernity’, from Nietzsche to Houellebecq stopping by Bunuel and Heidegger among others, the artist conveyed a fascination with finding a link threading these figures, all known for their a fiercely individualistic stance coupled with a struggle with inner demons. As a group, they appear as slightly stalwart symbols of a time long past, self-consciously romanticized in the wake of their extinction.

The fifteen new oil paintings focus in on Heidegger’s position as seen through a very contemporary pop culture filter. The making of that famous Spiegel interview, titled ‘Only a god is able to save us’, was documented in a few press photos, in which Heidegger and Austein, accompanied by Wiegand Petzet, Heidegger’s friend and biographer, can be seen against the philosopher’s library, a strange space which in these paintings becomes a door into abstraction. Kunze opens up the memory and implications of the paramount event, of the philosopher’s interest in metaphysical questions that wished to remain silently, blatantly divorced from his involvement in historical incidents, and re-contextualises the debate by pairing it with a borrowed language of frustrated communication: the allegorical mirror world of Lars von Trier’s ‘The Kingdom’ and its uniquely metaphysical explorations. In the once cultish tv-series, set in a hospital filled with troubled ghosts that become more chillingly real as the plot thickens, science is challenged, and perhaps even controlled, by parallel networks of knowledge that go beyond death or humanity. This heady, incomprehensible flattening of time and truth into uncertainty takes the unresolved questions behind metaphysical choice and responsibility embodied by Heidegger and others all the way back to a beginning, Kunze’s work mysteriously suggests, where everything escapes a settled answer.

Lupe Nunez-Fernandez

To 22 Sept 2007
Leipziger Strasse 36 /
Charlottenstrasse 24
D – 10117 Berlin
T: +49 (0)30 20648886


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