Published  01/12/1968

Richard Lindner and the human being as a toy

Richard Lindner and the human being as a toy

Studio International, December 1968, Volume 176 Number 906, pp. 252–255.

A Lindner retrospective exhibition, shown at the Städitsches Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen in November, is to be shown at the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, from January 1 until March 9, 1969. From there it will go to the Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, the Haus am Waldsee, Berlin and Berkeley University Museum, California

In the work of no living painter does man appear a toy to such a degree as in that of Richard Lindner. His people, heroes and whores of our times, slaves to the joys of conspicuous consumption, victims to the adventures of the big city, experienced in many kinds of games, prefer to occupy themselves with toys. They spin tops, lick ices, handle machines, dress like dolls, surround themselves with hoops – and right away we know: for these people, other people are only toys, they are prepared to use them.

Richard Lindner’s people seem to be living in amusement parks or coming out of gambling dens. They are shaped by the machines they play with: music boxes and slot machines, electrical pin-ball machines and rifle-ranges. Their clothing gleams like coloured lamps; the breasts of the women glare like targetplates. Man himself has become a toy. In Lindner’s pictures of the late fifties the human figure looks like a cut-out, pasting-game or puzzle, either as targets or hidden within the chinese puzzle of abstract forms. In the more recent pictures man walks the neonlit night streets in many disguises, aggressive and madly alone.

Lindner’s people are ironclad like motorcyclists, they are wrapped in corsets like knightly armour, they hide under helmets and behind spectacles, they are tied with belts, garters and buckles, they wear visor-like masks and uniforms of leopardskin. They are armed with sticks and whips and armoured with boots and kilts. They shine like polished metal and glossy leather. Their clothing is aggressive down to the colour composition: poisonous green next to piercing violet, shocking pink against dangerous blue. Even the smallest formal details show this – the points of high heels, the curve of hips and hair, the edges of epaulettes, the dagger-like points of sunglasses, puffy lips and brutal thighs. The telephone receiver becomes a grenade, the rim of a lady’s hat cuts like the tail-fins of her car.

Games turn into war and war into a game. For Lindner life seems a big game, and a dangerous one. It is a game of colours: traffic signals, illuminated advertisements and shop-windows. But life is also an arena for continuous fighting, unrelenting attacks and alert defence; a war of the streets, technology, the sexes. The whip becomes an attribute of woman, the gun of the boy, and against both neither waistcoat nor cloak, sunglasses nor hood can protect. The erotic game is demasked as a battle for power. Each instrument of torture within civilisation is also an instrument for pleasure – and vice versa. In the end all that dressing up, armour plating and armament does not ward off the worst threat: the threat of llust.

The world of the painter Lindner is a world of dressing up and packaging, a world of sensual temptations and suggestive desires, a world of cruel children and wicked toys, a world without a past that wants to live unseeingly into the future, that wishes never to grow up, a world of the moment – this is the world of the United States, this is the world of New York.

Lindner wants to transfer the trite amusements and entertainment centres of our modern world (New York’s night life, Hollywood’s dreamworld, Disneyland and Greenwich Village, Madison Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, 42nd Street and Fishermen’s Wharf), into the pure enjoyment of art. And more: he wants to translate the conflict of carnal pleasures into the rich tension and lasting pleasure of art. Yet he cannot depict pleasure without at once annoying and intensifying it through all the disturbance, irritation and aggression of colours, forms and objects.

Richard Lindner leads a retired life with his work in his penthouse on 69th Street. He is intelligent and witty, delicately built and elegant. He observes astutely and formulates precisely. We shall understand the nature of this man better knowing that he owns a big collection of everyday as well as unusual toys, gathered from all the corners of the world and assembled carefully on shelves in his bachelor’s apartment. There are dolls and masks, clocks and bells, photographs and fetishes, artists and motorcyclists, a clown on a unicycle and a rider on horseback, men at the billiard table and a gymnast on a ladder, wind-up bird and tiger with wide-open jaws showing his teeth.

The people in his paintings are like toys, and as such they convey Lindner’s special concept of man: man is an object, an instrument. He functions, he lets himself be manipulated, one can wind him up to make him run. He will perform somersaults over a pole or climb up and down ladders. Lindner sees man with the features of masked anonymity – stereotyped, pre-imprinted, doll-like and artificial. This is faceless, anonymous and isolated mankind in search of pleasures and yet living with greater intensity and vulnerability.

The people in his paintings are always passing each other without seeing one another as in The moon over Alabama; they stare past each other as in The meeting or The street; they turn their backs on each other as in One way or in Telephone (where even the telephone is only a pretence at communication)! They wear many different masks in order to hide their featureless faces, even their hair serves only as a disguise.

Woman triumphs. All activity emanates from her. With her sex she attacks the male and she introduces brutality and intensity into the game. Lindner’s creatures are precocious girls with knowing bodies and innocent faces like dolls, Lolitas in miniskirts with lollipops, teenagers with tiny hats under small berets wearing low-cut blouses brash with the ornament of pointed breasts, tweens in leather suits or space outfits or older women looking younger. They are all alike in this: their strength is centred in their prominent thighs. They don’t want to grow old. They don’t even want to grow up. They want to remain forever in a play-world where fate cannot enter. This is the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe shown in the picture Marilyn Monroe was here. A black shadow falls on half of the figure suggesting that half of her life is extinguished. The tragedy lies in the opinion that to have a destiny means to be given to death, prone to dying, sure to die.

Is this the world of America, is this New York?

Certainly to a high degree, but not all together.

Lindner imported his concept of a toy world into the US when he emigrated in 1941 and united German and American ideas, Nürnberg and New York.

He lived for more than two decades in Nürnberg where his parents moved from the cool and sober Hamburg a few months after his birth. In Nürnberg he spent his childhood and played his first games; here he saw in the Germanische Museum the witches of Hans Baldung Grien, here he began to study fine arts at the Kunsigewerbeschule. Nürnberg, city of toys and torture chambers, honey cakes and racks, tin soldiers and pogroms, Albrecht Durer and Hans Sachsn, humanism and schoolmasterliness, traditional ‘Gemütlichkeit’ and medieval dungeons – this Nürnberg moulded him decisively. He always thought Nürnberg to be a terrible city. It has to become the background for the Reichsparteitage (Nazi Party conventions) and the Nürnberg laws (against Jewry), events which affected Lindner’s and millions of others’ lives more horribly than any previous discriminatory decrees, even during the Reformation. This is the very city, within the walls of which some of the most beautiful and most touching works of art are kept, where more phantasy and inventiveness were put to the production of toys, than in any other city of the world!

Maybe Lindner’s Nürnberg origin is one reason, why art and cruelty, man and toy enter into such a strange palpable and undisolvable synthesis in his work.

Yet one might consider the game factor in a wider sense. It determines not only the contents of his paintings but their form as well. He places the hoopgirl in NO, who sits so provocatively in the letter O, and the motorbike girl in Ice instead of facts of the hardest ‘hard edge’, playfully he mixes lettering and illustration, super realism and well calculated abstraction. He joins German matter-of-factness with the American sense of social criticism and visual sophistication. He toys with different styles, uses them, changes them, applies them whoever and however he wants to. He even invents them anew, if necessary, if it enhances his central theme.

Richard Lindner has a passion for playing and his favourite game is painting. He is interested in every possible aspect of such a game. Man and the universe fascinate him; he gambles for the highest possible stake: himself.

Wieland Schmied


studio international logo

Copyright © 1893–2024 Studio International Foundation.

The title Studio International is the property of the Studio International Foundation and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved.

twitter facebook instagram

Studio International is published by:
the Studio International Foundation, PO Box 1545,
New York, NY 10021-0043, USA