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Early works by the German artist
You’ll find plenty of grim twentieth-century history in German artist AR Penck’s early work, made under the Communist regime in East Germany during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The earliest painting, of a man strapped into an electric chair, possesses a naturalism Penck quickly abandoned, and a pessimism he didn’t. It’s soon after that the genital-bearing stickman starts to appear as a leitmotif: picking fruit from trees, shitting in toilets, brawling with other stickmen. Crude and matter-of-fact, these pieces have all the deceptive simplicity of figurative-period Philip Guston. The sculptures in the second room, made of tinfoil and cardboard, are curious – but they’re most definitely asides to Penck’s tight, graphic pictorial works. Filled with numbers, letters and symbols, they’re like hieroglyphic friezes in the age of the Iron Curtain and the atom bomb: bleak, but captivating.