Apr 7, 2020 · 8:51 PM

Date 2017
Image dimensions 160 x 140 cm
Technique/material Acrylic on cotton
Credit Collection Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Donated by the artist
Inv. no. SK18005
Werner von Mutzenbecher

Zacken schwarz, Zacken rot [Spikes black, spikes red]

Werner von Mutzenbecher (born 1937 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) has had an immense impact on the Basel art scene, of which he is still an integral part today. In addition to his reputation in art circles as a painter, experimental filmmaker, and writer, he has been a teacher at the Schule für Gestaltung in Basel since 1973. He was also the head of the art education program at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Basel from 1987 to 2000. In 1977, he was appointed temporary director of Kunsthalle Basel for one year.
Born in Germany, von Mutzenbecher moved to Switzerland when he was only five years old, when his mother returned to her hometown of Riehen with her two sons after his father died in the war. When he was a young man, he decided to pursue an academic career, and he enrolled in German Studies and Philosophy programs for two semesters, before deciding to study painting at the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule (General Vocational School) in Basel from 1957 to 1960.
Von Mutzenbecher’s early paintings in the mid-1960s began to take on the style of gestural abstraction with added geometric elements. Around 1970, he developed the artistic language that he is still known for today when he began creating paintings with large geometric shapes in which often only a few white lines create volumes on a black ground (or vice versa). Alongside cuboids and angles, he soon began using such symbolically charged motifs as crosses and tables. These were then followed by chairs and castles, which were more implied than explicit. Such works reveal a correlation between his paintings and the experimental films that he began making in 1967 and which often sound out the world of things. In the 1980s, he began to focus on a checkerboard pattern (primarily red and white, or blue and white). This sometimes served as a background for three-dimensional, geometric shapes and objects. Principles borrowed from Constructivist-Concrete painting, like mirroring, symmetry, and serial sequences also play a role in the overall composition of his works, as can be seen in the paintings in the collection of the Museum Haus Konstruktiv. However, he was never interested in these principles for their own sake, turning his focus more toward making perception more dynamic. He once described his films as “the attempt to non-scientifically research the inner and outer world.” This also seems true for his paintings. It is therefore fitting that, at a mature age, von Mutzenbecher left geometric pictorial compositions behind altogether in the 2000s to reinvent himself as an artist who paints flat, figurative works called “Paraphrasen” (Paraphrases), which are full of color and play with iconic art historical imagery as well as ancient or Japanese artistic styles, respectively.

Deborah Keller




With financial support by:

Lotteriefonds Canton of Zurich

Baugarten Stiftung
Ernst Göhner Stiftung
Dr. Adolph Streuli-Stiftung
Stiftung Kunstsammlung Albert und Melanie Rüegg



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Apr 7, 2020
8:45:00 PM CEST