Rainer Ganahl




Rainer Ganahl is a rare exemplar of the artist today: an agent provocateur--an old style Dadaist, creating idiosyncratic models by which the innate scharacteristics of a decadent yet diverse society are made clear. To see society through the eyes of such an artist is to remain critical at all times of the systems that infuse and inform all of our relevant communications. Ganahl’s perspective on these complexities produces new models of self-expression that are both direct and vague at the same time, because their meaning is loaded and connected directly to the means of expression inherent in each different type of art work.


Every statement we make these days is filtered through social media. Even statements tied to non-internet forms of expression, like a musical score, a choreographic plan, or a published novel, has at one time or another had a part of its actual role subsumed by the technological landscape or has been critiqued by someone on it. Ganahl reacts to the current state of socialized interaction between individuals and groups, and both in a mass form, as contextualized by corporate and governmental structures like the Internet and its progression into social media platforms that, though free to use, create a ripple effect through all previously private structures of community. The moral and legal structure of these systems are Byzantine. Everything pronounced within these systems is fodder for consumption. It’s important to at least control the quality of statements, and to present statements that contain an essential degree of ambiguity so that they cannot be too easily consumed by the systems, but remain within the environment of the unknown.


Ganahl’s approach, which is by nature multidisciplinary, considers the cultural practices of human interaction as they are ritualized and perpetually re-inscribed by technology. Within the realms defined by the boundaries of technology, that is to say social media platforms and all other exigent extensions of communication online, Ganahl comprehends that few individuals may ever transcend their national , economic, educational and ideological boundaries without addressing the political and superstitious analogies that also influence the social fabric that constitutes and regulates what we call civil society. Take for instance two very different series of his works. One is comprised of several paintings that present fragments of a personal conversation in ink on blank canvas, using negative space to emphasize the layering of meaning and the importance of degrees of utterance to describe and dramatize the conversations as visual icons. As both evidence and narrative, they present intimate statements that reference matters of understanding only in the moment.  Intimate communications may seem privileged but they are at the same time marginal, and it’s their personal nature that most colors them. Affected by memory as well as by context, they are may easily either stand out when recalled or be erased by time. In Ganahl’s hands they are like tone poems even if their meaning is so personal as to seem obscure, and when at times they express obscene things. It’s important that works like these be made, so that no secrets die in the darkness.


On the obverse are Ganahl’s Trumpisms drawings series. Each drawing is one word or expression made popular during the Trump presidential era, either voied originally by Trump himself, or made popular in print and broadcast media and then adopted by Trump in his public statements, official or Twitter-based. Ganahl draws them in a version of the Fraktur typeface that has traditionally been used in printing of books and newspapers since the 16th century, and has been promulgated in the ealy days of the Nazi regime as an exemplar of Germanness, the press was at times scolded for its frequent use of "Roman characters" under "Jewish influence" and German émigrés were urged to use only "German script”. The works that each characterize a specific expression in this series of drawings were made or used by Donald Trump during the debacle of his administration in attempting to “handle” the crisis represented by the advent of the Coronavirus epidemic. Perhaps no sitting president for the last few decades was less prepared, on many levels, to deal with such an all-encompassing crisis as this was. Like no other challenge before, it frayed all the limits of his miniscule imagination, which could not fathom an issue more important than himself and his “message.” These words were used to hammer home a provisional world-view that loaded the airwaves with terms that would suppress diversity of meaning and interpretation. There could only be one voice speaking, godlike, speaking the official words. A parody of authority if there ever were one. As Ganahl couches meaning in these works, a repressive agenda projects official language that will be echoed by all of Trump’s surrogates in different levels of government and news media, until all we know are these terms or their moral opposed ones. Each of these words and expressions has been seared into our consciousness.


Continuing in this same aesthetic direction are Ganahl’s News Paintings, taken either from the print edition of The New York Times, or from various online news sources. Here he seems to be addressing the role of the artist as a purveyor of knowledge, as technology grows ever more essential to our lives, the artist must comment upon it or cease to be current. Ganahl also admits that with news all around us, there is a tendency to be forgetful of the degree of portent available in such sources. The newspapers and their online locations speak to us consistently and with critical regard on subjects of central importance to all persons.


Though Ganahl’s works are meant to provoke, they are not by nature subversive. They operate under the same provisional modes as the authority structures they critique. Each series of work reinstates the importance of facts and the uniqueness involved in a decisive utterance or refection of power dynamics. The artist as scribbler-in-the-margins and the artist as recorder-of-newsworthy-facts are two sides of the same coin, while the artist as scribe-to-time encompasses all of his projects. In making intimate utterances, making paintings from half sayings, drawings from typographically charged popular idioms, and epic paintings depicting the most attention grabbing headlines out of mass media, Ganahl is not borrowing knowledge but is manipulating the accepted modes by which we understand the nature of truth. In recent years the idea of truth, as defined by how we perceive the facts before us, has come under fire from mutually opposed ideologiocal corners. An alien wisdom has been forced upon us by maniacally conservative forces in government, media, and the ever-present online community that would otherwise remain passive. Ganahl takes it upon himself to speak truth to facts, and leave power to wander after him.  




Eric Michaud, The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, tr. Janet Lloyd, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2004, ISBN 9780804743266, pp. 215–16 and Plate 110.