Roland Boden

Architectural Paintings: The Grand Visions and Bleak Realities of Modernism

Works Bio
Roland Boden in his studio

Roland Boden’s enigmatic architectural paintings tell stories of the grand visions and bleak realities of modernism. In these sceneries, something significant is or will happen, but what it is remains uncertain. The landscapes, which are reminiscent of construction sites as well as deserts, are uninhabited: it is unclear whether the human beings who are so conspicuously absent have disappeared completely or are about to arrive soon.

rationality of modernism

The vedute, with their constructivist architecture, reflect the rationality of modernism, but at the same time appear irrational, even surreal: they remind us of the metaphysical sceneries of a Giorgio de Chirico. Boden also names two archetypal painters of German Romanticism, Karl Blechen and Caspar David Friedrich, as spiritual points of reference. And with his picture titles, which point to the myths of antiquity, Boden strikes an even wider historical bow.

roland boden interfaces busche-kunst
Roland Boden, three drawings from the series Interfaces, 2010-2015, ink on cardboard, ea. 73 x 102 cm each.

The architectural paintings demonstrate how the utopia of modernism turns into a dystopia, illustrating its demise. “At the same time,” the artist qualifies, “one could also see aspects of a fragmented construction, but nothing is definite… without the concept of hope there is no work at all. I am interested in the intermediate state, that is, the uncertain, the ambivalent.”

Some houses are unfinished, only the hollow concrete skeleton of beams and pillars stands. Others seem to consist only of the façade, the interior, the contents remain hidden. Some are reminiscent of the soulless administrative buildings that were built everywhere – especially in the 1970s – while others are so peculiar and strange in shape that a function cannot be discerned. Many a building wants to overwhelm with its size, but the interior is visibly hollow and empty.

The raw material for his constructions – the architecture of modernism – was tracked down and photographed by Roland Boden on his travels around the globe; together with found objects from magazines, films and computer games, the photographs constitute the basis of his work. He uses them to construct 3D models on the computer, which he employs as raw sketches for his paintings.

But what is decisive is the transformation of these drafts into painting: “The use of ‘classical’ painting with its blurriness contrasts here the slickness and lack of history of computer-generated models. Ideally, this creates a state that oscillates between model, animation and reality.”

façades and walls

The elaborately crafted façades of some buildings – the equivalent of the open emptiness of some others – emphasize the stage-like character of the architecture. Here, what is happening inside remains entirely hidden. The more beautiful, colorful, and imaginative the façade, the more questionable is the action behind it. The two earliest of our pictures – Onthewall – show nothing but a colorfully striped wall that hides everything.

roland boden models busche-kunst
Two models by Roland Boden: Modular System Space Grid (1998), 184 pieces, each 5 x 40 x 5 cm (right); and Model VII/10, 43 x 43 x 71 cm (left)

The strategies of domination of political systems find their equivalent in the size, the “overpowering” of architecture. The often excellent designs of the rationalist architecture of Italian fascism are an example of how inhuman politics can be combined with progressive culture. The piled up bar grids in the picture “Reactor” point in this direction. At the same time, this huge building – whose function is completely unclear – consists of nothing but empty structures. Similarly, the rostrums (which one can imagine filled with tribunes) are empty. And the loudspeaker-like structure in “Annunciation” is as large and powerful as it is empty. Whoever thinks of totalitarian regimes here is certainly not entirely wrong.

There is also something overwhelming about the satellite in “Periphery_02”, but this advanced technological object also shows clear signs of wear and tear, its best time is behind it. Moreover, its size is not entirely clear: since the human being is missing as a reference – the artist emphasizes – the object could just as well be a tiny nanorobot.

Let us take a brief look back at the utopia of modernism: the clear, rational architecture of the International Style stood for a better, brighter, sunnier future. But the dystopia of modernism was also visible in its very beginnings. The same construction principles that made it possible to string together good inexpensive living space almost endlessly led to urban planning visions that make us shiver even today: Le Corbusier and Ludwig Hilberseimer proposed to replace the historic city centers of Paris and Berlin with inhuman grid skyscrapers. After 1945, on the tabula rasa of bombed-out cities, such ideas were actually realized, often ending in slums.

Similarly, the “scientifically proven” doctrine of Marxism provided an exact plan for the development of a fair future. But even this utopia turned into dystopia, into the camps of the Gulag.

roland boden Kronos busche-kunst
Roland Boden, sketches for his “Kronos-Projekt”

the Kronos-Projekt

The paradox of science, that essential knowledge about our world can be calculated but sometimes hardly understood, is demonstrated by Roland Boden with his “Kronos-Projekt”. In his words:

“It is the fictional research for an experiment started in 1926 to verify Einstein’s theory of relativity. Eight test persons are in a converted subway car, which probably still moves with infinite slowness (only a few millimeters per day) under the pavement of Berlin. Relativistic effects of time reductions are said to have occurred, so that it is assumed that the persons in question have only been on the move for about seven hours.”

The unfinished, the decay, the references to the utopias and dystopias of modernism: all this underlines the aspect of time in Roland Boden’s architectural paintings. These partly unfinished, partly decaying buildings evoke the ruin paintings of Classicism and Romanticism, for example of a Hubert Robert, who around 1800 portrayed the powerful relics of the Roman Empire in the state of their decay.

Still as ruins, overgrown by nature, they herald the former grandeur of that empire, and the people next to them seem to indulge in melancholy thoughts about the transience of all worldly things. But above Roland Boden’s workplace hangs a much more gloomy vision, the image of a dark, labyrinthine, hopeless dungeon: it is a sheet from Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri series.

The romanticism of ruins is not the only connection with classical antiquity. In his picture titles, Roland Boden often alludes to Greek and Roman mythology. They refer to the legend of the Argonauts and the Tower of Babel; Homer’s “rose-fingered Eos” is found there, as well as the giant hecatonchirs with their 50 heads and 100 hands, and the Moirai, the goddesses of fate from the Titan battles. With the series Legacy of the Troglodyte, Boden even goes back to the legendary cave dwellers of pre-historical times.

Piranesi Carceri XIV
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Carceri Series, Plate XIV, 1745

The work Catalaunian Fields / Apotheosis shows half-finished, half already decaying skyscrapers; the title refers to the battle in 451, when Roman Visigothic troops defended the “civilized Occident” against the “barbarian Huns” under Attila’s leadership in the battle of the “light” against the “dark”.

When the artist contrasts the myths of dark prehistoric times with the scientific rationalism of modernism, the question arises: What has the modern age, with all its progress and scientific knowledge, gained over the narratives of antiquity?


You can see a selection of Roland Boden’s paintings in our digital exhibitiona New Additions and Landscape, so Beautiful!.

More information on the Kronos-Projekt you will find on its special site and at kultura extra and ngbk. The Australian IASCA reports on the artist’s Deep Space Project about a lost submarine, The Mystery of U 239. Artitious gives an extensive, illustrated report on the artist.
If you like Roland Boden’s work, you might also be interested in these artists in our online gallery: DAG, Jens Hausmann, Forster HerchenbachChristopher SageBernhard C. Striebel and Jinny Yu.



Roland Boden was born 1962 in Dresden. He lives and works in Berlin.
School, high school, baccalaureate, military, studies at Technical University Dresden, diploma in civil engineering. Freelance artist since 1989.

Grants, Awards (selection)

1994-95Philipp Morris Grant for painting
1998artist in residence, Ohio Arts Council, Cleveland, Ohio
2002IASKA grant, Perth, Australia
2003grant and residency German Academy Villa Massimo, Rome
2005artist in residence, APT gallery, London
2009Kunstfonds grant, Bonn
2020Falkenrot Award, Berlin
Berlin Senate research grant

Solo Exhibitions (selection)

2020Für immer allein, Rahmen&Kunst Alexandra Erlhoff, Berlin
2019Normalverteilung, Kunstraum 34, Stuttgart
Verheißung im Gelände, images of architecture, #2_b-parts Berlin
2016Verhängnis & Gewährleistung, Kunstverein Paderborn
2015Strategien der Defensive, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
was wir gehabt haben werden, Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Trier
2005Retreat, Gen Gallery, Tokyo
2002Deep Space, IASKA art gallery, Kellerberrin, Australia
2001Waiting for the alien, Emil Filla Gallery, Ústí nad Labem, Czechia
2000Plutonics//boxes, Dresdner Bank ,Frankfurt am Main, with V. Peschke

Group exhibitions

2020Modell Berlin, St. Matthäus-Kirche, Kulturforum, Berlin
Construct Your Stories, Falkenrot-Preis, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin
2018Driftende Bauten, kunst galerie fürth
New Black Romanticism, National Museum for Art, Bucharest, Stadtgalerie Kiel, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, Galerie der Stadt Backnang, Palais Thurn-und-Taxis Bregenz, Topicuv Salon Prague
The Long Now, Kunstverein Bochum, meCollectors Room Berlin
2017Turm-Bau, kunst_raum_rottweil im Dominikaner-Museum Rottweil
2014Das Mechanische Corps, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, HMKV Dortmund
2012Memento Küstrin, fortress grounds Kostrzyn, Poland
2009Krieg und Medizin, Hygiene Museum Dresden
Memorabilia, Neuer Sächsischer Kunstverein, Dresden
2006Busan Biennial, Busan, Corea
Chemnitz City Resort Neue Sächsische Galerie, Chemnitz
2005Munch Revisited, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund
Global Players, Bank Art Studio Yokohama (Japan), Ludwig-Forum Aachen
2004Revolving Doors, Apex Art Gallery New York, Fondación Telefónica Madrid
2003Adieu Avantgarde, Welcome Home!, Ludwig-Forum Aachen (K)
Living Inside the Grid, New Museum for Contemporary Art, New York City
2002Elvis has just left the building, Perth Institute for Art, Perth, Australia, Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin
Aesthetics, ibid-projects London
Split Points, National Gallery Prague – Trade Fair Palace
2001Plug in, Westfälisches Landesmuseum Münster
berlin_london_01, ICA Institute for Contemporary Art, London
2000City Index, Kunsthaus Dresden
Borderline Syndrome, Manifesta 3, Ljubljana
1997Vitale Module, Städt. Galerie Plauen; Kunsthaus Dresden; Kunstverein Ludwigshafen; Galerie Avangarda Wroclaw, Poland (1998)
1996Thing Between, Technische Sammlungen Dresden