Let’s talk:
Neo Rauch, Götz Adriani & Friedhelm Hütte on the Sleep of Reason

Along with cycles by Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, and Arnulf Rainer, little-known drawings by Neo Rauch from the Frieder Burda Collection are now on view at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. What sources did the Leipzig painter draw on for these works?
GÖTZ ADRIANI: The Frieder Burda Collection not only contains some of your paintings, but also a wonderful group of works on paper purchased in 2009. How important are the drawings in your oeuvre?

NEO RAUCH: They’re what I call an accessory. Something that trickles alongside the great river of canvases. Which doesn’t mean I have a low opinion of them. I simply don’t give them the time and attention they might deserve. In fact, I work to a lesser extent to make them presentable.


Neo Rauch is one of the most important contemporary painters. He’s been associated with the Deutsche Bank Collection for a long time. The bank first bought works by the Leipzig painter back in 1990, and in 2001 a selection of Rauch’s works from the collection was shown at the Deutsche Guggenheim. An entire floor of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt is devoted to his artistic production.

Götz Adriani is one of Germany’s most distinguished exhibition organizers. As the founding director of the Kunsthalle Tübingen, he helped the museum attain international renown. Since 2001 he has assisted Frieder Burda in creating the program for his museum, where he has organized exhibitions on Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Georg Baselitz.

Friedhelm Hütte is the head of Deutsche Bank’s art department. The art historian has curated numerous exhibitions of works from the corporate collection, including Saxony—Works from the Deutsche Bank Collection. Within the framework of this show, also early works on paper by Neo Rauch were presented in the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig.


GA: What do you mean by presentable?

NR: In the nineties, I had the passe-partout, the elegant frame, in the back of my mind, as it were, while I was working on a drawing. This isn’t very important to me any more. Many of my drawings are much more arbitrary now. They are really only paper existences that develop a presentable essence in the drawer where they are kept. They lie there for a while after languishing on the floor, and when I open the drawer months later and view the contents, I happen to see some of the sheets as being presentable.

FRIEDHELM HÜTTE: The drawings from the Frieder Burda Collection are very elaborate compared to your earlier works. Is there a specific background? Do they focus on certain topics or were they executed for a specific occasion? Do they form a series?

NR: I consider them to be more archaic than my current production, which is geared more to conventional figurative parameters, if one can use this term at all. In the nineties, I tried to overcome a great deal of darkness, so to speak, to use archaic punctuation.

FH: Were you inspired by other artists at the time?

NR: I don’t really know who all had an impact on me, who my role models were. Beuys, surely, with his drawings. It was a time of upheaval, which led to an increase in figurative art, with a diffuse kind of abstraction giving rise to precise formulations. At first they were just floating particles, but they became increasingly and went on to claim a central place.

GA: In 2009, you published a volume entitled Schilfland, consisting exclusively of works on paper. It contained 160 drawings executed from 2005 to 2009. Does the nebulous expression Schilfland, or “Reed Land,” refer to the place where the ideas for your drawings had their genesis, the place on the paper where conscious and unconscious, vague and specific meet?

NR: Yes. It is the realm where reason dissolves and we wade through banks of fog on unsure footing.

GA: Does drawing serve to capture the initial outpouring of dream visions from the subconscious?

NR: The drawings are a direct “Schilfland” product. They are what I pull up between blades of grass while I’m making the paintings in the dry confines of the studio.

FH: You once said you don’t regard your drawings as classic works such as, say, the pencil drawings of Caspar David Friedrich or Albrecht Dürer, but more like an entry in a diary.

NR: Not even that. They are moods that push their way outwards from time to time and attempt to prove their formal relevance in certain frames of mind. But they do not pave the way for something or directly reflect natural processes or perception.

GA: Is dubious reason born in the shadowy realm of Goya’s monsters?

NR: “The Sleep of Reason.” Of course. That’s a very important work. The sleep of reason engenders monsters and these monsters are of course artworks.

GA: In the face of ravaged nature and desolate culture, how would you define beauty, which was disqualified long ago, in your fundamentally elegiac works?

NR: Beauty is always also great pain, says the offbeat travel writer Jürgen von der Wense. And for me, too, beauty is tinged with melancholy, something that awakens my protective impulses and that is strongly threatened by perishability. The ugly, meanwhile, is something that creeps into our habits. The ugly is subversive and omnipresent, so beauty continually surprises us when we encounter it. But it is frail, it is something that doesn’t seem to be as stable as the ugly.

GA: Does the ugly dominate our thoughts?

NR: Our perception. We live in an unstable age, at a time when there are no longer valid frameworks that can support what we have entrusted to them for centuries to come. The ugly is a design medium, an attempt to plant something other than beauty that is lasting. It is of course a sustainable construction, but it doesn’t make us happy. By the same token, it’s not easy to intentionally create something that is ugly.

GA: One last question: What does the joy of drawing or painting mean to you?

NR: The joy of living.


“.....Höhere Wesen befehlen”
Works on paper from the Frieder Burda Collection

12/5/2014 – 3/8/2015
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin