Works by two artists from Cologne, Jiri Georg Dokoupil and Walter Dahn, fill a gallery with more cheeky spirit than we’ve come to expect from West German imports. Isn’t the new German Expressionism supposed to be wan and downtrodden, or heroically tragic? Maybe, but these painters are no babes in the Black Forest. If they are down on the state of things, they say so through humor or by flexing their muscles. What they share with their compatriots, on both sides of the Atlantic, is artistic outspokenness and indebtedness to popular culture.
Dokoupil, who is actually Czech, comes off as the stronger artist, though he uses a method familiar to any junior high school doodler and exploited by New York’s subway “writers.” He paints words or acronyms on enormous canvases, or models them in clay as small sculptures. Not just any words, mind you. He chooses pillars of international corporate power: IBM, Coca-Cola, Sony. In themselves, they reverberate with commercial success, but Dokoupil reinforces and reinterprets their images, turning these business giants into looming black and blue forms in paintings now feathery, now cavernous, now churning. Simple letters become ominous landscapes of power. The clay sculptures, painted with turquoise acrylic, are more playful, if not ludicrously disarming. Letters rising from rectangular slabs look rather like Surrealist skylines or lumpish caterpillars.
Dahn shows cartoonish little paintings and much larger emblematic ones. Some are artists’ in-jokes--"Whosafraidofred II,” referring to Barnett Newman’s famous red canvas. “The Skiing Painter” depicts a little artist equipped with a ski-pole-size brush, himself the subject of a painting. More impressive are an untitled canvas, with a sort of bird’s head and a bottle balanced on two up-stretched fingers of an enormous hand, and “Goat With Content,” in which the beast is a brushy silhouette and content is a word printed across one side of the canvas. Both are strong images in acrid yellow-green and black. Defiant, cynical and at the same time vulnerable, they are quickly read but not easily forgotten. (Asher/Faure, 612 N. Almont Drive, to June 22.)