Time Out New York / Oct 30–Nov 5, 2008

Johannes Kahrs

Three men stand facing the viewer, backed by a nameless street. Their heads are cropped out of the image so their stances and gestures do the talking, but the message remains ambiguous. The black-and-white scene has a confrontational edge—the central figure’s hands hover above his pockets as if itching to pull a gun, and the way the trio spans the composition seems to signal the impossibility of escape. Yet exactly who these people are and what they want is a mystery.

Like many of the paintings in Johannes Kahrs’s U.S. gallery debut, Untitled (three men standing) is a study in implied violence. And by omitting the details of location and intent, the German artist makes the creeping anxiety it provokes all the more keenly felt. Working with photographic images culled from the mass media, Kahrs gives this ubiquitous tactic an individual stamp by concentrating on the depiction of men—specifically, men locked in enigmatic tableaux shadowed by physical and psychological tension.

In canvases such as the brooding, airless Two Men (kiss) and Untitled (four men with table), Kahrs cements the forbidding atmosphere by restricting his palette to a range of grays that recalls Gerhard Richter’s October 18, 1977 (1988). But Kahrs, like his influential countryman, also marshals intense, saturated color; Two men (sweat) and Man Sitting are suffused in a fiery orange glow. Exercising tight control over every aspect of his project (framing and installation design included), Kahrs makes an effective contribution to a crowded field.

Image: Johannes Kahrs, Man Sitting, 2008