Prehension precedes apprehension, the moment before something is grasped; where without forethought the hand seeks to create a shape that will ensconce, probe, pinch or tickle – to create its opposing puzzle piece. In Lukas Duwenhögger’s large retrospective show at Raven Row, ‘You Might Become a Park’, men – by and large, but with an occasional woman and an errant cockatoo – repose with cigarettes loosely cradled between fingers, and with eyes fixed only slightly off yours, on the cusp of making a proposition or extending an invitation.
Spanning his career of over thirty years, and coming hot on the heels of its sister exhibition, ‘Undoolay’ held earlier in the year at Artists Space, New York, the show testifies to the mounting interest in the artist at a point caught between looking back at the precocious production of youth and the wistful reverie of older age. Over Raven Row’s four floors – its more standard contemporary art gallery space on the ground floor and its rooms above with stucco-edged ceilings and panelled walls – run the gamut of Duwenhögger’s ‘fabulist’ world: oil painting portraits both intimate and grand in scale, sculpture, installation and collage. ‘The Go-Between’ (1999), a large oval painting, leans against a wall in the upper galleries like the anamorphic skull in Hans Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’ (1533), insinuating the need to shift our weight from leg to leg and tilt our heads in order to more properly grasp its codes. In it, a gramophone like a gleaming triffid looms above a gentleman in dress caught between livery and the costume of a toreador, a hairy chest revealing itself. The perfumes of a sultry night seem to list through the open window behind, animating his dead stare, and the lingering hand that fondles a towel, with diabolical possibility.
The paintings are happy to languish, to waste time, by virtue of their feeling so at home, so well looked after in these more domestic settings. They speak softly, though formally, with the crease of a trouser leg, the cut of the cuff, the bending of a limb – ways that dress the veritable lexicon of sprouting hair. Curling, mustachioed, peeping, bristled, combed and unkempt – as a whole the paintings, through this private language of symbols, taxonomise desire. The collages on paper that are more explosive, on the other hand – full of more explicit euphemism, sun-drunk pastel hues and cutting witticism – are annexed here, sadly, to an echoey conference room at the top of the building like naughty schoolboys, where they sulk impotently.
The most arresting proposal or proposition however is somewhat more sober but as equally tender. ‘The Celestial Teapot’ (2006) is a sculptural model and accompanying painting for a large-scale memorial intended for ‘the persecuted homosexual victims of National Socialism in Berlin’. Already dominating in size in the gallery, it is composed of a tower of curving wooden staircases that leads to a viewing platform beneath a bronze teapot, its handle an arm curved as if resting on the hip, and the spout gone limp at the wrist. The teapot’s patina suggests it has existed in situ for an age already and the arms point towards to a multitude of situations unable to be fully grasped.