The welcome revival of Konrad Klapheck

The artist’s surrealist paintings will feature at White Cube Bermondsey alongside works by Peter Dreher and Des Lawrence in a summer spectacular

Der Misanthrop (1973) by Konrad Klapheck
Der Misanthrop (1973) by Konrad Klapheck | Image: Konrad Klapheck. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co

Art fans love a rediscovery. In recent years, the focus has been on overlooked female artists and groups marginalised from decades of dull curation and sales. Konrad Klapheck is one of the most delightful German creatives you may never have heard of. Yet his paintings sell for six-figure sums. This year at Christie’s, a 1958 piece by the artist sold for €586,000 (up from an estimate of €100,000-€150,000). Jay Jopling of White Cube was paying attention, and is giving Klapheck a well-deserved exhibition, alongside artists Peter Dreher and Des Lawrence, at his cavernous Bermondsey space from July 10 to August 25 (preview on July 9).

Nancy Roman (2019) by Des Lawrence
Nancy Roman (2019) by Des Lawrence | Image: Todd-White Art Photography

Klapheck’s work emerged in the 1950s, when he took everyday modern tech items like typewriters, sewing machines, phones and bits of plumbing and blew these man-made items up into surreal, iconic pop art. His style is everything – the objects become blobby and almost sensual. Imagine a typewriter made of warm bread and you get a feel for the sensation of his work. The artist often highlights our fetishisation of things in the titles of his work – as he once noted, “The machine forced me to confess my most hidden yearnings and desires”. He titled a 1969 painting of a phone, for example, Verliebtheit (Amorousness). There is a touch of the anthropomorphic too, with the relationship between machines or pipes being named after human ones, such as the 1977 Der Mütterliche Vater (Motherly Father) depicting a typewriter. 


White Cube is presenting Klapheck’s work (from €95,000 to €1.8m) as part of a three-person summer show called The Real: Three Propositions. It is curated by the gallery’s director of external projects, Toby Kamps, and also includes more than 350 identically sized still lifes by fellow German painter Peter Dreher (his water paintings are priced $15,000, while a complete set of representative paintings, spanning 45 years, is being offered for  $1m), and the work of British talent Des Lawrence, who makes photorealistic figurative work (from £6,000 to £23,000). Together, all three artists play with ideas around illusion and representation.

Tag um Tag Guter Tag (Day by Day Good Day), Number 2266 (2009) by Peter Dreher
Tag um Tag Guter Tag (Day by Day Good Day), Number 2266 (2009) by Peter Dreher | Image: Peter Dreher. Photograph: Leo Koenig Inc, NY

Klapheck, who lives and works in Düsseldorf and is now in his 80s, has increasingly been making figurative work, drawing on, for example, erotic photos from the 1920s. His contribution to the show – alongside earlier works on canvas and paper – is his largest ever painting In the Age of Violence II from 1995 and Der Misanthrop from 1973, depicting a giant Swiss army knife. The basics of technology have never looked so enticing.


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