A graduate of the famous Leipzig Academy in the former East Germany, Neo Rauch has made old-school Socialist Realism accessible, and even palatable, to Western curators and collectors. Populated with robust, Teutonic figures in dizzying composite settings, his large-scale canvases are less cryptically erudite than those of Max Ernst, more romantic than the mocking “Capitalist Realism” of Gerhard Richter and his generation of East German artists. Rauch’s paintings have been getting bigger and bigger (as have their price tags), but his latest work doesn’t feel inflated—it’s packed with deft painterly passages and riveting narrative standoffs. In Höhe (2004), a windswept central figure seemingly plucked from Caspar David Friedrich carries buckets of paint through a moody landscape. In the frenzied Neue Rollen (2005), lager-swilling dandies share the field with windmills and a mother and son peering at a group of toys. The Middle Eastern iconography of Leporello (2005), with its hookah and palm trees, introduces a third ideology into the Cold War divide. These paintings can seem like kitschy if accomplished pastiches of Communist-era advertising, but as President Bush completes his photo-op tour of the former Eastern Bloc, such colorful compendiums of empty gestures look better than ever.
At David Zwirner
Through June 18