Missing Link

2 March – 13 April 2024
Robert Grunenberg is delighted to announce “Missing Link” by Maxim Gunga.

Missing Link
Robert Grunenberg
02.03.2024 – 13.04.2024

In his intensely luminous, often large-format oil paintings, Berlin-based artist Maxim Gunga (born 1994) creates a visionary yet everyday cosmos in which everything is infused with the same universal life energy. There are no clear hierarchies between inner and outer experience, body and soul, civilisation and wilderness. The city is an ‘amorphous landscape’, as one of Gunga’s paintings is titled: natural and organic structures blend together to form fantastic hybrid architectures and bodies. These urban landscapes often explore transition – from centre to periphery, from cell to whole organism, from ‘subculture’ to ‘mass culture’, from the profane or precarious to the sacred. 

In “Ubahn is drivin” (2022), the underground railway to Weißensee, where Gunga had his studio for a time, becomes a place of community and contemplation, with doors opening onto greenery, a pastoral idyll or even paradise. Elevated tracks grow like branches. Bodies clump together, form clusters, branch out like plants, shrink, rise up in solitude or swell to gigantic proportions. Gunga’s painterly, extremely physical figures always have something cyborg-like about them. Such as in “CK Daunenmantel am flowten” (2019), in which a bird-like, dramatic creature emerges from high-end fashion and animalistic forms, like a creature from a children’s book, at once technoid and mystical, like a totem, an ancient guardian spirit. 

As a press photographer, Gunga’s grandmother photographed the haute couture and prêt-à-porter shows in Paris. As a child he came into contact with fashion, fashion history, the mindset, the “vision” behind designs and labels, idolised Lagerfeld and studied designers and designs intensively. For Gunga, fashion is an expressive, spiritual, psychic energy. It is an aura, but also physical, a suit of armour, a representative, materialistic shell, a protective casing that merges with the body or personality like a skin. In “Side to Side” (2019) we see two incarnations of the self: the representative self, ready to go out in Prada jogging pants and Air Jordans, already dancing. And the much smaller, resigned ‘naked’ self, which embodies a very different, wimpy sense of self-worth. One of the partying ego’s Nike trainers has mutated into a technoid claw. Gunga shows the other shoe in fine design detail, as if looking at it from the perspective of a collector and fan, as if on LSD.   

Gunga is interested in how different, even opposing energies come together to find a kind of absolute expression.  Balenciaga is standing outside the supermarket, an Uber is taking us all home, to bed, to God, to ourselves. Gunga’s painting resists hierarchies, seeks community, intimacy, ecstasy. For him, colours have an elementary, symbolic character. They express existential states in which fleeting moments, things that are seen in passing or out of the corner of the eye, merge with myths, the history of painting and the history of nature. 

Every moment is absolute, everything is contained in it. You just have to perceive it, otherwise it is already gone, vanished.  Gunga’s painting is about the futility of capturing the moment – and the utopian and speculative power that lies in this futile attempt. There is always the possibility of paradise, as in ‘Tiere beim Spielen gestört’ (2023), a jungle idyll reminiscent of Henri Rousseau, in which predators, snakes, a flamingo, a gorilla and a koala play in paradisiacal harmony, but are startled by the viewer’s gaze. 

There is always this analogy between animal and human society, the idea of a primal state that we can find anywhere, anytime.   Clubs, parks, trams and dark rooms are transformed into spiritual, sexual and ecological biotopes, into fields of experimentation. Gunga shows moments from the Lab, Berghain’s gay sex club, as casually and tenderly as scenes on the street, in the underground or by the sea. Everything is an expression of a vital energy that constantly enters new states of aggregation. 

He seems to draw directly from the legacy of post-war Expressionist and Neo-Expressionist painting, Art Brut, the CoBrA group, the early Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Karl Horst Hödicke. Of course, the electrified, sexual, urban energy is also reminiscent of the painting of the so-called “Neue Wilde”, Rainer Fetting, Salomé, Helmut Middendorf. There is certainly a strong affinity, and Gunga can certainly be seen as a descendant of these traditions. An essential aspect of his artistic practice is his engagement with early modernism, especially Fauvism, van Gogh and Matisse. The connection with religious art, folk art and the painting of self-taught artists, visionaries and outsiders also plays an important role. In ‘Joseph’s Dream of the Eleven Ears of Corn’ (2020), Gunga refers to the Old Testament visionary story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. The painting was created during a residency at the Worpswede Artists’ Houses and engages in a dialogue with Paula Modersohn and Reiner Rilke. Joseph, a former slave and dream interpreter, hovers like a visionary prophet or angel over a field of corn, over the material world that bows down to him. 

In his large-format “Sauna” (2024), Gunga echoes the elevated, distorted perspective of one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings: “The Night Café” (1888). Van Gogh painted the interior of the Café de la Gare in Arles. He wrote: “I have tried to express the terrible human passions with red and green. The room is blood-red and dull yellow, a green billiard table in the middle, four lemon-yellow lamps with orange and green circles of light. Everywhere there is struggle and antithesis”.  Gunga, for whom colours have a similarly fundamental meaning, shows a mixed sauna, again as a kind of antithesis to van Gogh’s café: a non-binary place of warmth, healing and community.  And not just between people and genders, but also between people and animals, who are merging in some of the bodies. Gunga’s painting is also so bold because it allows for regressive, almost childlike, sometimes even destructive affects, only to counter them with precise, controlled painterly choices and comments on the history of painting. In doing so, he takes the patriarchal thinking of modernism and transforms it into a multi-perspective, fluid and at the same time absolutely urgent form of gestural expression for the 21st century

02 March 2024
6 – 9 PM

Exhibition on view
02 March – 13 April 2024

For more information, please contact the gallery:  mail@robertgrunenberg.com

This exhibition is supported by