Kenneth Bergfeld


02 Feb – 23 Mar 2024
Jan Kaps, Cologne


Installation Views

Press Release

Part 1: Shades Some of the most important innovations in the history of painting were achieved through the use of light and its distinct absence. The technique introduced by Renaissance painters of using darker tones for the underpainting and layering lighter colors on top creates a complex interplay of penetrating light. The balance between light and dark elements determines the choreography between what is seen and what remains hidden. Kenneth Bergfeld applies this technique to all of his compositions by carefully adding thin layers of oil paint to darker areas of color. He calls them “washes”. Like a palimpsest, where words are written on earlier pieces of writing, his washes merge with the underpainting, creating layers of tone and capturing periods of time. The light shimmers and passes through different stages and gains depth and nuance. While darkened shades of color determine the artist’s compositional atmosphere, there are different kinds of shades illustrating the ideological superstructure at play in his works: Sunglasses make repeated appearances in Kenneth Bergfeld’s paintings. On a metaphorical level, you could say that there is an aversion to light. Bright screens everywhere. Forces are pushing towards darkness, whether through obfuscation or otherwise. Since reason and argument have proven to be excellent tools of subjugation, and legalistic violence has characterized the last century, it looks like the Enlightenment has proven to be a fraud. In any case, an eclipse is underway. Sunglasses occupy a special place in consumer culture. Different models evoke different symbolic charges: some reinforce old tropes of masculinity or various forms of irony. Like so much in fashion, sunglasses function via multiple identifiable points of reference, surpassing a single ideological or political position. And all sunglasses enable the paradoxical performance of hiding in plain sight – avoiding eye contact by making a statement, inconspicuously attracting attention. Similarly, the myth of modern architecture embodied by the glass and steel compounds of multinational corporations is also a feigned transparency, the perfect camouflage for the impenetrable wall of capital that conceals an incomprehensible concentration of wealth and property - a world in which the romanticization of labor serves as a springboard into a dark void in which illusion only begets illusion. Blinking lights, day and night. Part 2: Everything at once The narratives in Kenneth Bergfeld’s paintings meander back and forth between different styles and references, like parts of an ongoing conversation. The various elements and figures play a role in his overall compositions just as much as they stand alone, detached from any other context, abstracted as it were. Although many of his works are legible and can sometimes be wildly interpreted, the artist himself approaches his work on a level of abstraction. And with abstraction, something is always taken away. With Kenneth Bergfeld, this can be seen in the way he frees his compositions from any temporal linearity and surrenders to the illusion of simultaneity: His canvases, painted with Brueghelian density, entertain the absurd fantasy that it might actually be possible to experience everything at once. Part 3: Broken glass The depiction of broken glass occupies a special place in Kenneth Bergfeld’s work. It not only evokes broken iPhones and urban decay, but also continues the earlier image that behind the transparent glass and steel architecture of global corporations lies the opacity of money and power. The image is an ambivalent symbol: On the one hand, it signals the dismantling of existing systems of power; on the other, it is reminiscent of looking out of a cage in which the shards distort facts and perceptions. The ambivalence is underlined by the uncertainty as to whether the figure appears behind the broken glass or whether it is merely the reflection of a person. By taking these metaphors to the extreme, the artist is particularly interested in the distortion that blurs the boundary between reality and illusion. Like the echo of protest, the broken glass stands for the desire for liberation, change or simply acting out emotions, while at the same time emphasizing how complex it is to achieve any of these goals. Looking through broken glass creates a distorted view of reality, refracting the light and reflecting the kaleidoscopic, fragmented state of the present. While attempting to name one’s own time span is easily doomed to failure, visual uncertainty lends itself as an image or lens to illuminate the uncertainties of the present moment, which by some standards could be described as an ongoing moment of crisis. The root of the Greek word talks about something between a choice and a decision, which almost sounds like being caught between a rock and a hard place, and yes, it’s not the same thing. Moments like these, when paths part, can be described as a kind of interregnum, in which old systems are overtaken and a new reality takes hold. But perhaps the never-ending dream of modernity beckons, all the howling ghosts and angels of history, and what supposedly came after is long gone, undermining true progress and what remains. To summarize, broken glass represents a kind of paradox in Kenneth Bergfeld’s work. An attempt to overcome boundaries while emphasizing the complexity and limits of our present reality. In its symbolism lies a tension between the urge for change and the fear of the change it brings.