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Hans Schärer

AARGAUER KUNSTHAUS
Aargauerplatz
May 1–August 2

View of “Hans Schärer: Madonnas and Erotic Watercolors,” 2015.

This uncanny parade takes the visitor’s breath away without fail: For over fifteen years, from 1966 to the beginning of the 1980s, the Swiss artist, poet, and composer Hans Schärer created his “Madonnas”—pastose oil paintings in various vertical formats. They depict silhouettes of masklike figurines whose grimaces and penetrating gazes do not bode well. Nearly a hundred have been collected in this solo exhibition, “Hans Schärer: Madonnas and Erotic Watercolors,” in the main hall of the Aargauer Kunsthaus.

The painter pursues his subject obsessively. Shaping it again and again, painting layer upon layer, often for months, without a version being able to satisfy him. The ghostly silhouette, the head and torso are reduced to a few characteristics—the mouths, eyes, coat, or hair resemble one another in almost unending variations of form and color. These are idols of femininity and female power, teeming with desire and threat. The densely hung watercolors in the adjoining space act this out scenically in smaller format on paper. Cheerful nudes enjoy themselves in the circus-colored, BDSM ambience.

In contrast, Schärer’s statuesque Madonnas are less an expression of seductive femininity and sexuality than a surface projection of masculine libido, fantasies, and fears. For that reason, too, they unite in Aargau as a tension-filled chorus. If one could hear them sing, Thomas Tallis’s 1570 polyphonic Spem in alium (Hope Lies in the Other) would belong in their repertoire.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner