Research

 

 

 

Rupprecht Geiger

On December 15, 2007, the retrospective “Rupprecht Geiger zum 100. Geburtstag” opened at the Lenbachhaus. As early as 1998, the longstanding relationship between the museum and Rupprecht Geiger bore fruit in the form of a master’s thesis on the artist’s painting technique.The museum’s collection includes a large number of his works that are frequently on display, such as “Neues Rot für Gorbatschow” (“New Red for Gorbachev”); many of them were restored in preparation for the new exhibition. The show also presented the bulk of his graphic art, a large selection of recent collages, and several architecture models for colorful rooms.

 

 

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

The paintings: technique and present condition

“… in [Geiger’s] view, color and light are one, his pictures are portraits of color, he paints color itself.” (Ruhrberg 1967)
The evolution of Rupprecht Geiger’s technique is closely associated with the genesis of his compositional ideas. Different motifs necessitate the development of adequate techniques of depiction. His art is informed by his love of experimentation, which is evident in his use of a wide range of techniques.
For instance, Geiger worked with different binders over the years. Early in his career, he blended pigments with egg tempera; from the mid-1950s on, he increasingly used oil; and starting in the mid-1960s, another change of medium brought him to acrylic resin, which he uses to this day.
Geiger’s choice of binders was no doubt influenced by the different techniques of paint application they made possible and the variations in the resulting appearance. To create an even color gradient or a monochrome “portrait of a color,” for example, he needed to produce an anonymous-looking layer of paint, one that would show no trace of manual brushwork. To achieve this look, Geiger resorted to a variety of implements such as paint rollers or a screen and scrubber, or he sprayed the paint onto the surface using compressed air. Such spray-painted passages occasionally appear in his distemper paintings (see fig. 1), but this paint composition seems to have been less suited to the technique than pigments suspended in oil. The artist’s need for a paint that could satisfactorily be applied by spraying was one reason for his change of binders.
Geiger also relied on a variety of techniques to produce clean boundaries between adjacent areas of color. His works show edges manually painted with a brush, areas where a layer of paint was subsequently scratched off (see fig. 1), and fields delimited by tape prior to the application of paint, which produces characteristic edges (see fig. 2).
Irrespective of the materials the artist used and the painting technique, what all his paintings have in common is the extreme sensitivity of the generally very matte layers of paint. The frequently very high pigment-to-binder ratios of his paints have resulted in paint layers that are sensitive to mechanical damage such as scratching (see figs. 3 and 4) and lack internal stability; delamination and loss of adhesion create the danger of a loss of tiny as well as larger particles (see figs. 5 and 6).
Many works require intervention to stabilize and consolidate these fragile areas. Due to the exceptionally sensitive paint layers, restoration of these paintings necessitates the use of unconventional materials and techniques.
In Geiger’s monochrome surfaces, even very minor irregularities will quickly catch the eye. Superficial deposits of dust immediately impair the viewing experience and will cause damage to the object over time (see figs. 7 and 8). In many instances, such dust can be removed with a fine soft dry brush. Other surface phenomena such as the frequently observed formation of a grayish plaque on the paint layer result from complex chemical changes related to the aging of the binders and other factors.
Another preventive intervention taken to protect the integrity of Rupprecht Geiger’s paintings is the application of a protective back cover made of acid-free cardboard, which provides both buffering against climate variation and protection against mechanical impact. In many instances, a polyester lining is also inserted into the narrow space between the canvas and the back cover to minimize movement and vibration of the canvas during handling.
The visual impression of some paintings is altered severely by the aging of the daylight luminous paints Geiger frequently used (fig. 9). These pigments, which were originally developed for military purposes, are fluorescent under ordinary visible light, whence their enormous luminescence. The fluorescence is lost over time and due to exposure to bright light. To prevent the resulting loss of luminescence, direct illumination of the paintings must be avoided and exposure to damaging UV radiation must be reduced as far as possible during presentation.
Additional preventive measures taken to protect these paintings include appropriate climate control in the galleries and adequate safety provisions.

 

 

Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9

Many works require intervention to stabilize and consolidate these fragile areas. Due to the exceptionally sensitive paint layers, restoration of these paintings necessitates the use of unconventional materials and techniques.

In Geiger’s monochrome surfaces, even very minor irregularities will quickly catch the eye. Superficial deposits of dust immediately impair the viewing experience and will cause damage to the object over time (see figs. 7 and 8). In many instances, such dust can be removed with a fine soft dry brush. Other surface phenomena such as the frequently observed formation of a grayish plaque on the paint layer result from complex chemical changes related to the aging of the binders and other factors.
Another preventive intervention taken to protect the integrity of Rupprecht Geiger’s paintings is the application of a protective back cover made of acid-free cardboard, which provides both buffering against climate variation and protection against mechanical impact. In many instances, a polyester lining is also inserted into the narrow space between the canvas and the back cover to minimize movement and vibration of the canvas during handling.

The visual impression of some paintings is altered severely by the aging of the daylight luminous paints Geiger frequently used (fig. 9). These pigments, which were originally developed for military purposes, are fluorescent under ordinary visible light, whence their enormous luminescence. The fluorescence is lost over time and due to exposure to bright light. To prevent the resulting loss of luminescence, direct illumination of the paintings must be avoided and exposure to damaging UV radiation must be reduced as far as possible during presentation.

Additional preventive measures taken to protect these paintings include appropriate climate control in the galleries and adequate safety provisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modell 1
Modell 2

MODELS AND COLLAGES

A core idea in Rupprecht Geiger’s oeuvre is that immersion in a colorful environment has recreational benefits. The models illustrate different situations designed to permit visitors to “soak up color.” Only one such project was realized, in the park of a hospital in Taufkirchen an der Vils, Bavaria (see p. 361 of the catalogue raisonné).

These models had long sat in Geiger’s studio and were restored for the exhibition as well. Extended storage had damaged the objects. They showed mold and dirt stains, scratches and nicks. Luckily, historic photographs allowed us to reconstruct the original appearance of the models. For example, the figurines, which are crucial to understanding the objects as models and illustrate the projects’ proportions, were missing.

In restoring the models, we sought to produce a unified appearance without making artistic revisions: we repaired broken components, stabilized cardboard elements, cleaned the surfaces, patched imperfections, and retouched blemishes. The figurines were carved from balsa wood and painted gray to match those visible in the old photographs.

In the recent past, Geiger has made playful works with ephemeral materials from everyday life he arranges in collages. The results are highly delicate creations, such as a piece of birch bark hardly larger than a notebook affixed to a surface coated with daylight luminous red paint. In addition to the often inventive assembly and hanging of these works, the Lenbachhaus’s graphic-art restoration department matted and reframed a large number of graphic works in preparation for the exhibition.


FURTHER READING ON PAINTING TECHNIQUE

Felicitas Klein, “Die Verwendung von Tagesleuchtfarben in der modernen Kunst – am Beispiel von Rupprecht Geiger, Kuno Gonschior und Siegfried Cremer,” M.A. thesis, Institut für Technologie der Malerei, Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Stuttgart, 1993.