A.R. Penck (Ralf Winkler)

Dinner at Brown’s Hotel

1984

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Not on display

Artist
A.R. Penck (Ralf Winkler) 1939 – 2017
Medium
Acrylic paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2500 × 3503 mm
frame: 2530 × 3532 × 33 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Michael Werner in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2018
Reference
T15283

Summary

This colourful large-scale painting in acrylic on canvas shows a group of fifteen people around a dinner table. Five of them – four of whom are in profile and one of whom has his back to the viewer – are depicted in front of the table, in the foreground of the painting. A further seven people – most facing the viewer and some depicted in profile – sit on the other side of the table, in the centre of the composition. Three figures stand behind them in the background. The work is painted in an expressionist style with broad brushstrokes in various bright colours. Though their features are exaggerated, the figures are nonetheless recognisable.

Beginning at the top left-hand corner and moving clockwise, the figures are: Daniela Winkler (the artist’s wife), Nicholas Serota (then-Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London and later Director of Tate), Elke Baselitz (wife of artist Georg Baselitz), a waiter (standing), the painter Georg Baselitz, Anthony d’Offay (art dealer, standing), Norman Rosenthal (Exhibitions Secretary at the Royal Academy, London), Hester van Royen (art dealer), Leslie Waddington (art dealer, standing), Hans Neuendorf (art dealer), Helen van der Meij (art dealer), Marie Puck-Broodthaers (assistant to art dealer Michael Werner), Mary Boone (art dealer) with Michael Werner (art dealer), and finally at bottom left Penck himself, with his back to the viewer and painted in a somewhat abstract style.

Penck – who was born Ralf Winkler but also went by the names of A. R. Penck, Mike Hammer, T. M., Mickey Spilane, Theodor Marx, ‘a. Y.’ or simply ‘Y’ – became (along with Jörg Immendorff, Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz) one the key figures of German New Figuration painting in the 1980s, after moving from East Germany to West Germany in 1980. He painted the scene in this painting from memory and, as the title suggests, it shows a dinner that took place at Brown’s Hotel in London in 1983 – the year before the painting was completed. The dinner was held on the evening before the opening of Georg Baselitz’s (born 1938) retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London on 6 September 1983. Baselitz, who was the star of the evening and also one of Penck’s oldest friends, is depicted in the very centre of the painting. He is the largest figure, dominating the scene. Although Penck’s arrangement respects the dinner’s actual seating plan, the composition, in which all the other figures surround Baselitz, is reminiscent of religious depictions of the Last Supper, with the German artist in the place of the Christ figure. However, as pointed out by Tate curator Richard Calvocoressi, Penck himself has rejected this interpretation or indeed any other art historical associations such as, for example, with Baselitz’s own work Dinner at Dresden 1983 (Kunsthaus Zurich) (Richard Calvocoressi, ‘Dinner at Brown’s Hotel’, in Tate Gallery 1984, n.p.).

Dinner at Brown’s Hotel was exhibited as the centrepiece of a monographic show of Penck’s work at the Tate Gallery in 1984, curated by Calvocoressi. In the accompanying publication, Calvocoressi explained the background of the painting within the context of Penck’s work and standing in the art world before and after he left East Germany in 1980:

There are earlier examples in Penck’s work of this type of subject, which documents a private gathering of people to celebrate an anniversary or similar occasion (e.g. Birthday Party 1977). But whereas in the East such a gathering would have consisted entirely of family and friends from the underground, confirming Penck’s isolation from the art establishment, the high proportion of dealers in Brown’s Hotel, some competing for the privilege of handling Baselitz’s work, illustrates Penck’s observation that in the West it is the market, not the state, which ‘regulates the relation between the artist and those who look at his pictures’.
(Calvocoressi, ‘Dinner at Brown’s Hotel’, in Tate Gallery 1984, n.p.)

Penck graphically represented the contrast between his former and new lives in two very large monochrome paintings, East and West, both 1980 and both also in Tate’s collection (Tate T03304 and Tate T03303 respectively).

Further reading
A. R. Penck: Brown’s Hotel and other works, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, 1 August– 4 November 1984.

Monika Bayer-Wermuth
August 2018

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