Issue 50 January-February 2000 RSS

Walter Dahn

Konstantin Adamopoulos, Frankfurt, Germany

About 15 years ago Alan MacGee, once a leading figure in British Wimp Pop and now Tony Blair’s pop culture guru and manager of Oasis, chose his favourite music in a radio broadcast. One of his choices was ‘River Man’ by Nick Drake. A few years later, I was sitting on the London underground and noticed that a young man opposite me was reading a little publication called Pink Moon, a Drake fanzine. Soon afterwards a friend gave me the Drake album of the same name. The softness of his voice, his gentle guitar-playing, the mild sadness of the things he sang about, the way he looked so utterly fragile - all added up to an image of a man who suggested I leave him alone. Reading his biography or seeking out bootlegs of his music would have felt like I was crowding him.

Walter Dahn’s show ‘Five Leaves Left’ alludes to Drake’s 1970 album of the same name, as well as Autumn and cigarette papers (Dahn rolls his own). It’s not the first time Dahn - whose work includes painting, photography, sculpture, film and installation - has referenced popular music. After having been involved in various bands from the early 80s, for example, in 1994 he painted the titles of his favourite songs on to canvases, and in 1997 made drawings that referenced an album cover by the band Palace.

With their disparate motifs and occasionally fuzzy focus, Dahn’s photographs have a snapshot feel. He prints them with an inkjet printer on handmade paper, which lends them a a quality not unlike watercolour. Friends, animals, objects and landscapes appear in these images as if by chance. His approach, which is imbued with a kind of tender astonishment, recalls a 19th century flâneur - someone who drifts around the streets looking at everything.

An empty, crumpled beer-can hangs over a branch as though someone had hung it out to dry:

Luis Buñuel war hier (Luis Buñuel was here, 1998); children have built a kind of wigwam under some bushes on a strip of land by a road in Das hab ich in Braunschweig gesehen - Kinderteepee (I saw that in Braunschweig - children’s tepee, 1999); a cylindrical cloud floats above a mountain, in Berg mit Wolke (Mountain with Cloud, 1973-99). These three images reveal how good the artist is at photographing actual events or objects that appear to have been staged. For Dahn, who studied with Beuys, these images also reflect his attempts to connect art with real situations.

While some of Dahn’s pho-tographs isolate unique moments, others, like Leaping Lizards (1998) of a little lizard in the zoo, or one of a horse’s head in a winter landscape, Schimmel im Schnee 2 (White horse in the snow 2, 1998), or water-lilies, Teich (Pool, 1999) are evidence of the apparently disinterested pleasure the artist takes in paying tribute to ephemeral moments. Another quality is also apparent in Dahn’s photographs - tenderness.

There is an image of Nick Drake looking out of a window on the cover of his album Five Leaves Left. In the background is a table covered with stones and earth. There’s a similar table in Dahn’s show, covered with objects from the artist’s collection: one real and one plastic bamboo leaf, a tennis ball that has been cut open, a flute, a bowl of leaves, a broken plastic bottle, a small four-colour print of Dahn’s photograph Philip (1998) - and, of course, a plectrum.

Martin Pesch,translated by Michael Robinson

About this article

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First published in
Issue 50, January-February 2000

by Martin Pesch,translated by Michael Robinson

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