Für Anton Henning: Portrait, floral still life, interior and pin-up

Anton Henning
Portrait, floral still life, interior and pin-up
‘Was uns als natürlich vorkommt, ist vermutlich nur das Gewöhnliche einer langen Gewohnheit,
die das Ungewohnte dem sie entsprungen ist vergessen hat.’
Heidegger 1935/36
When I walk into the hallway of the exhibition space of Anton Henning, I stopped at the door. The
painting doesn’t hang on the expected place at the middle of my eyesight. It shifted slightly towards
the right; I also turn my gaze to the right. In a flash I hear and see Jan Hoet – who made an
exhibition with Anton Henning in Marta Herford – and I remember his laughter with the
proposition I made in 1992 to change the title of Documenta IX, Displacement to Das richtige
Daneben: ‘It’s a good title, but not for my Documenta!’ The painting Blumenstilleben mit Früchten
No. 55 is precisely next to it and shows the corner of a room with a painting, placed on the wall on
the left, which in my opinion shows a sky of Holland, a Delfts blue vase with flowers shaped like
propellers on a Japanse Lacquer table. The wall on the right shows another floral still life in
perspective or does it show the same vase within a mirror? My gaze gets pulled more towards the
right as I step into the space.
Immediately with the first painting I become a part of a spatial strategy, a thematic staging and
historic, theatrical storylines. It doesn’t matter where I am, inside the painting or just outside it,
the painting steers my gaze. It’s like a bellboy who guides me to my hotel room.
Anton Henning is a master in mixing different motives and styles from Art history. He knows his
role models. The style variations of the female figures of his paintings aren’t always as easy: the
Pin-up, yet a profession with self-presentation as objective, has difficulties to stay dimensionally
stable and doesn’t have a clue what to do with multiformity. They decay to mere details and get
distorted in the many perspectives from which the time space of the painting is built. Their
relations to the objects, who have no issue with the distortion and overlap, becomes very intimate.
Everything gets deformed, a form can even become unrecognisable or it can leave traces in an
ornament or motif. The entire interior is subjected to metamorphosis, who has been put in motion
but hasn’t been completed. Anyway, what would be the direction of this proces: change in
construction or degradation?
The Interior is a very important historic genre, where the space transforms into a living room; a
private domain publicly. That’s also the Pin-up. The room in the painting Interior No. 544 has a
corner line, but no floor, the flowers bloom but not all have a stem. In the painting there are other
paintings. In Portrait No. 503, there are parts of a sculpture in the space as if a spiritual seance has
taken place, lifting the object of its place. The tables and chairs are placed in his interiors like at the
end of a party. I see the room of a house where a child has fallen asleep because it became dizzy and
stayed up to late. Each interior is a ceremonial space, a banquet hall for painting where shapes,
lines and colors occur in a historical setting.
That same evening I talked to my friend Vasily Wells from Saint Petersburg on Skype and tol him
about Anton Henning’s exhibition:
“Sometimes, when I look at his works, it’s like I’m immersed in a pond. A pond, which you know
from a story in a book with dark red worn linnen covers. The story takes place at a different time,
where it’s always late in the afternoon. It’s about a big family with many children who don’t attend
school, but are always busy and exuberant. They can’t be called into order, yet they will always be at
the table at 6 o’clock for dinner, laughing and blossoming and mixing French words with Italian,
Russian and German. The pond, to be more precise the pond right next to the house, where
someone has died, but nobody knows who and where an old lady drinks red wine and laughs at the
world and the people who say: ‘act normal’ and ‘keep to the rules’. She laughs at those people
“This reminds me of my childhood, Henk,” I hear Vasily say, “when we were still Communists.” I
see how his lifted hand strokes his glass of beer. Afraid to get caught up in Vasily’s childhood
storied, I continue describing the exhibition. “There is peace between the visitor and the painting,
Vasily, a peace that belongs to looking itself. Do you know the feeling, when after a hot day your
skin has the same temperature as as the soft breeze that strokes it, when there is no resistance, no
obstacles between you and the world?” “Between your body and the world” Vasily corrects me. I
again don’t respond to him: “Between reality and myself is a wonderful order that I’m part of: you
could call it the sincerity of the art. “Ah, like Pasolini”, says Vasily. “He is my hero, you know, he
dared to approach mankind.Do you know his early poems from when he was 24? The sentences are
liberated from the here and now … within the arcadian silence of a mirror … In the silent mirror I
am a blue fish. Henk, I always wanted to tell you, your work is part of that oral tradition, which
Pasolini portrayed. What do you think?” “Yes of course, Vasily, I am the missing blue fish”. Vasily
stares at something at his desk, behind him I see a poster with a work by Olga Rózanova, the
Suprematist painter of the Revolution, who died to young. We saw the original work in Malaga, in
the dependence of the Russian state museum. Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso.
“Muzika”, Vasily echoed slowly in Russian with his eyes closed. I was struck by his enthusiasm. He
continues; “Henk, I remember my family in the theater listening to a Mussorgsky concert in the
newly opened Youth Theater at the Bolshoi Sampsonievsky Prospekt in northern part of
Petersburg. I remember the exciting moment before the orchestra begins to play and the
instruments are tuned. At that moment all the instruments sound like they have free play which
gives them a great, enjoyable, lively, happy fusion of sounds, pitches and rhythms. Delightful,
better than any piece of music. Liberated from order and authority. The tuning of the instruments,
sharpens the senses. Beautiful. I felt free and safe. I found myself inside the music. Is this what you
meant by stating you where inside the painting, Henk?” Without awaiting my reply, he goes on:
“But when the first violinist turns a page of his sheet music with his bow and everyone gets up
straight, the audience has some time for a final cough and everything changes. For a moment it
becomes quiet and all the musicians look tense to the conductor. At that moment my grandfather
looks at me, with a strange smile and a wrinkled forehead, what we later would call the smile of
Stalin. My mother nervously changes her seating position.” Vasily becomes silent with this
memory, but then continues his story; “Then a man in a black suit takes the stage, he looks at the
room for a brief moment and then he rigidly turns to wildly draw arabesques in the air with a small
stick.” I can picture it before me.
“Like you want to go back to the theater, I want to take place in the chair of the painted interior and
be a contemporary of the painted. Inside the interior I’m tracking the derailment and attempt the
unprecedented leapfrog quality to a world which has been rearranged. “Yes,” Vasily says. “It is
remarkable, the space is not cut into multiple spaces like in the collage of the Russian
constructionists, in which one image is autonomous and separated from the other.” “Everything in
his painting is of the same age. The flower has the same age as the wallpaper, the table is has the
same age as the floor and the Pin-up has the same age as the serpentine line. Everything is
subordinated to a whimsical game of shape and color. The work can’t be psychologically
interpreted, there is no question of guilt or morality around, there is no symbolism. That’s why the
painting is so accessible, friendly and inviting and gives you unimpeded access to … reality. ‘
“Reality, Henk?” Says Vasily, as if I said something wrong … “Yes, the reality, as it becomes visible
in our experience of the world.” ‘The world?” Asks Vasily again. “Yes, the world, where everything
exists and who can’t be claimed by anyone because the world belongs to everyone. It belongs to old
people, who lose their keys, and children, who comb their hair and travel to visit their mother who
lives alone in a house with a pond. She sits on a chair in a room where a painting hangs awry
against the wall. A painting with a high sky.
Henk Visch,
26 mei 2017, EIndhoven