The death of conceptual artist Hans-Peter Feldmann

Hans-Peter Feldmann in the exhibition dedicated to him at the Deichtorhallen, in Hamburg, Germany, on February 28, 2013.

Long before the invention of the Internet, Hans-Peter Feldmann had understood that the images of popular culture, from the most kitsch to the most trivial, say a lot about the obsessions of the contemporary world. He began to collect them and exhibit them in museums at the end of the 1960s, like the European equivalent of the American artists grouped under the term “Pictures Generation”, specialists in the diversion of images. The German conceptual artist, an iconoclast with a strong sense of humor, died on May 26, at the age of 82.

Giant slices of bread, woman’s legs, garishly colored flowers, smiles, Eiffel Towers, photos taken from her hotel room, all in the form of poor quality images, dithered, photocopied , salvaged from advertising catalogs: nothing was unworthy for the German Hans-Peter Feldmann, who appropriated the worthless images to make typologies of them that offer an unflattering reflection of the world, or to divert them in a way cruel and funny.

Enough to reverse the hierarchies of art – he never considered himself a photographer – and put artistic, commercial or utilitarian images on the same level. “I could exhibit them in a restaurant, but it’s easier for me to find a museum”, he underlined, with his usual humour, in an interview with World in 2002.

The artist has always voluntarily cultivated vagueness in his biography – we don’t even know the exact date of his death. But he says he cut out images, fascinated by them, from his childhood, spent in the town of Hilden (North Rhine-Westphalia), near Düsseldorf. After studying art in Linz, Austria, he began as a painter, but, marked by May 68, he broke with this “bourgeois art” and begins to collect images, instinctively.

Playful and humorous side

While he is in Düsseldorf, where German school students follow in the footsteps of Bernd and Hilla Becher to create documentary images with an implacable rigor, he prefers to send conventions flying and explore the consumer society through its symptoms. But his works, published in dozens of books, often handcrafted and self-published, are also marked by post-war German politics and society, as when he brings together press photos of all the victims of the dark years of the terrorism in the book Die Toten (The dead) in 1998 (Feldmann Verlag). Beyond the images, the artist also makes series from everyday objects that he accumulates, modifies or diverts: shoes, hats, plastic flowers…

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