“What is a picture? Perhaps one comes closer to the idea when attention is devoted not only to the picture but also to the space between the spectator and the picture. I call this a “blank space” or “zone” rather than a “distance”. It needs to be filled, to be charged. My picture is related to our physical presence. It isn’t a thing in itself. The more a picture is hermetically sealed, an assessable and assembled thing, it positions itself outside of our co-presence. It is a construct, a thought structure, something conceived of in hierarchies. I call this a self-assertion of the picture. But we cannot appropriate a picture. It is instead an opening up, a flowing out, a streaming in, an expanding. It is the infinite movement of approach, the yearning for tangibility, the wish to touch it.” (Günter Umberg, 2006)
Since 1970 Günter Umberg has explored the mutual relations of the artwork and its spectator. Together with the painter Joseph Marioni, Günter Umberg wrote the programmatic text Outside the Cartouche in 1986, in which they elaborate their position of "Radical Painting“ and manifest their interest in the behavior of spectators. By limiting the means of expression to the essentials of painting, art according to "Radical Painting“ is redefined with the most economical means possible. Umberg’s examination of viewers’ perception of paintings is made visible by the precise arrangement of his works within a room. It is only in relation to their environment that his works attain their identity and at the same time they deliberately create a distance between image and spectator. The interdependency of painting and space determines this distance, an aura, which is defined by the spectator’s position and distance to the work. Through their intense color fields and rectangular shapes that protrude from the wall, Günter Umberg’s pigment paintings are as charged as Dan Flavin’s light tubes or Donald Judd’s colored blocks. As touching the pigments, which are painted with dammar in layers on the image carrier, would destroy the works, Umberg plays with the indeterminateness of the color field, the appeal of approaching the work and the call for distance.
Umberg aims at bringing art back to the here and now because painting cannot be comprehended without its specific relation to space. Painting is an autonomous medium, which does not represent something else, but is itself an agent within the room.