Uncommon Denominator: New Art From Vienna
Jun 2002- Apr 2003
Lush paintings, psychologically charged drawings, deft political commentaries, and challenging conceptual works by 15 of the best artists from this cultural capital came together in Uncommon Denominator.
Peter Kogler's eye-popping wraparound video room will astound you. Erwin Wurm's cunning Fat Car (2002) is a testament to the need to live large. Herbert Brandl's massive paintings of mountains will take your breath away.
"Decorative, sumptuous, and beautiful" are all words that describe this exhibition, but so are "fat, pink, and out-of-control."
Is that a Gustav Klimt gracing the entrance to Uncommon Denominator? The decorative floral patterns and romantic, jagged figuration are obvious quotes from Klimt's style, yet the drawings are in fact by the youngest artist in Uncommon Denominator, Adriana Czernin. Like Klimt, Czernin seems compelled to fill her canvas with tenderly crafted decorative marks and vivid vegetation but, unlike Klimt, her work does not celebrate the drawing's every square inch: instead, the four corners squeeze in. What is rich and abundant in Klimt becomes a prickly trap here.
Czernin depicts herself as cramped and cornered by the confines of her drawings. Her body is forced into a contorted position flat against the background. The delirious beauty of her patterns is interrupted brutally by her awkward fit upon it.
Czernin moved to Vienna from Sofia, Bulgaria, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One might read the cramped, crooked imagery as a reference to social dislocation, a cultural retrofitting in the works. (Her floral patterns have recently grown spikey, with strange biomorphic thorns and patterning that recall Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.)
In her videos, Czernin's preoccupation with anxiety and decoration continues in a humorous and absurd vein. In her video Entanglement (Verwicklungen) (2000), Czernin is again trapped by her circumstances. She struggles to remove a scarf - a traditional Eastern European garment - from her head. The harder she struggles, the more ruffled and disoriented she becomes.
In her video Untitled 5/2000 (2000), Czernin's constraints are further compounded. We see a woman (Czernin) tied to a pole. The frame of the camera becomes another trap of sorts. With the camera trained on a tight box around the locus of action, she struggles in vain to free herself.
In both videos, Czernin brings the same decorative sensibility of her drawings into the design: small yellow flowers dot the grassy field of Untitled 5/2000, and her flowery scarf augments the visual field in Entanglement. The result is a refreshing take on a classically Viennese theme.
"In the series of the boy's drawings, I am really concerned with showing the boy in his sensitivity, naivetĂ©, and maybe also in his cruelty on the verge of turning from a child into a young man. In this conflict of adolescence, I wanted to make perceptible the physical discomfort of the child who does not know where (he) belongs. The drawings are wooden, faces like masques; the arms are too short and the bodies are out of proportion." â€“ Barbara Eichhorn, 2001
The large charcoal drawings of Barbara Eichhorn are slight, reticent, and fleeting. The drawings displayed in Uncommon Denominator are from Eichhorn's series "Youths", or Knaben, to which the English word does not do justice. The German word Knaben is an old-fashioned word for 11-year old boys in the midst of losing innocence, gaining experience, and on the verge of becoming young men. In these faint drawings the figures stand in a river. One boy holds a stone: will it be an aggressive toss or a resigned drop? The still air that surrounds the drawings and the delicate solitary lines of Eichhorn lend a deeply charged feeling. Eichhorn's psychological figuration owes a debt to the work of Viennese artist Egon Schiele, yet her drawings are far less expressionistic and far more fragile in feeling.
Since the late 1990s, Eichhorn has produced large-scale wall drawings. In the wall drawing included in Uncommon Denominator, the surrounding white of the paper so prevalent in her drawings now becomes the surrounding white of the building's walls. The faint charcoal lines lend a delicate fragility to a solid architecture. By operating in such a large scale, Eichhorn develops tensions with the quiet nature of her subjects.
br>Eichhorn works from photographs, either found or taken by herself, and uses them to develop her drawings. As opposed to emotionally charged images, she prefers ambiguous photographs that allow the viewers to place their own emotions in the characters. "My large-format drawings are chosen instants of life. They establish no relations to a larger context; they do not transfer any particular messages." While her drawings may not present a specific message, they evoke a multiplicity of personal readings for the viewer.
Constanze Ruhm's elaborate dual installation consists of a system of wall drawings, digital photographs, blueprints, video, and text that explore contemporary forms of visual and narrative architectures from film and mass media. The 1978 film The Eyes of Laura Mars (directed by Irving Kershner, written by John Carpenter) constitutes the work's center. Ruhm has digitally re-created architectural spaces from this 1970s thriller, and, through a process of spatial editing, rearranged them to form new architectural sequences of "spatial narratives", as Ruhm calls them.
Ruhm took The Eyes of Laura Mars as her subject because of its emphasis on architecture and vision, and its focus on the character of a female fashion photographer. Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is notorious for her violent explicit sexual photographs, and she is haunted with visions of crimes witnessed through the eyes of a mysterious killer.
For the MASS MoCA installation, Ruhm had developed two distinct typologies of architecture, each focusing on a different aspect of space, both centered around one of the dominant features of MASS MoCA's architecture: the column.
These columns are not only simple support structures; they can be interpreted as metaphors for belief systems as well. In addition, they represent historical strata since the original layers of paint (which have never been removed) become visualizations of the building's architectural past.
The first installation area (near the entrance to the Peter Kogler video room) represented a conceptual translation of the notion of "column". Here the column was conceptually unraveled; as if unrolled across the wall, the column was flattened and transformed into a sign system. The installation combined additional media from magazines, video, and architectural blueprints, all arranged through a color system related directly to the column that we saw in its original form in the DeRosa Family Gallery. The brown color field on the wall's lower section correlated to the shade of the column's lower half. The lighter color field on top maps precisely the upper half of the column, the dark color the lower half. The green color represents the oldest layer of paint, and indicates the section where the display table is located. On the table, we find a blueprint of sets reconstructed from the Laura Mars film. A monitor suspended over the desk shows a digitally recreated journey through these virtual spaces, accompanied by a voice-over.
The second area in the DeRosa Family Gallery evolved around the column: located in the center of the narrow room, the column provided perspective and anchor point. This area was concerned with the intersection of digital and actual space establishing a direct relationship between the architectural drawings, film stills, the architecture of MASS MoCA, and the viewer as subjective center.
By emptying a film of its narrative structures and by recreating its sets and spaces (sometimes digitally and sometimes with hand-drawn lines), Ruhm investigates visual and narrative "supporting" devices. She focuses our attention on structures and modes of representation that are usually hidden or "naturalized" out of view.
Erwin Wurm uses everyday materials - like pencils, buckets, flowers, friends and himself - to explore the field of sculpture. Instead of using imposing materials - like bronze or marble - Wurm focuses on the vernacular. His work can seem playful and light and can be seen as enacted questions about sculpture and performance art.
The obese milky-pink Fat Car II is a gas-guzzling example. Fat Car II overflows with body and, more specifically, fat. For Wurm, fat is a sculptural material. Fat augments the body. Wurm uses fat to expose and re-arrange the anorexia of the automotive industry's sleek, trim lines. The expected aerodynamic shape has been transformed into a gluttonous road hog.
We look at human bodies differently than we do at objects. Looking at the Fat Car II confuses visual categories. Is it sexy? Is it obscene? Is it grotesque? Descriptions that we usually reserve for human attributes can be used on Fat Car II, giving us insight into the complex manner in which we construct the world.
Wurm has used the performative and sculptural qualities of fat in other works as well. In Me, Me Fat (1993/2002), the body undergoes a transformation staged like the familiar "before and after" weight loss advertisements in tabloids, and the series may at first appear like a wry spoof of the genre. But in these photographs the human body becomes the sculptural material. The human form is indeterminate. Like a ball of putty, Wurm molds it into the large, small, rakish and plump.
In Curator/Emperor, (2002), Wurm cleverly introduces a particularly personal depiction of the body. Using MASS MoCA's Curator, Laura Heon, as his subject, Wurm had reshaped a less than malleable employee. The curator - known for determinate vision and resoluteness - is here shape-shifted into a regal dumpling. Even curators are putty in the hands of Wurm.
"A work of Art that deals with issues of Urbanism, Architecture, Modernisms is often identified as historical research, or as referential, dealing with a subject outside itself." â€“ Florian PumhĂ¶sl, 2002
British colonization of Uganda was made official in 1893 when the British government declared the Baganda region a protectorate. Resistance to colonialist rule ensued, culminating in post-World War II riots bolstered by India's successful rejection of the British. In 1962, Uganda declared itself independent by an elected coalition government, and in 1971 Ugandan general Idi Amin established dictatorial rule. Amin's oppressive regime lasted until he was exiled in 1979. Florian PumhĂ¶sl tracks Uganda's complicated colonial and post-colonial history through the architectural styles of the Ugandan cities of Kampala and Jinja.
In preparing for this installation, PumhĂ¶sl studied the urban design plans of Ernst May, a German architect and urban planner commissioned in 1945 to redesign Kampala, and the architectural drawings of Peatfield and Bodgener, whose buildings remain in Kampala. The modernist buildings and urban design of these city planners have since been incorporated into the new face of Uganda. PumhĂ¶sl's installation presented these complicated transitions and managed to turn the lens back on the viewer as well.
The projections in the installation presented many historic buildings that embody these transitions. For example, PumhĂ¶sl has filmed the East African Housing Facilities, a series of Le Corbusier-inspired concrete buildings located in Kampala which were developed for affluent citizens at the expense of the working class. (Le Corbusier is considered one of the inventors of what we now describe as "modern" architecture.) With the exile of Africans of Asian descent by Idi Amin in 1972, the buildings have since changed ownership. This type of "takeover" is of particular interest to PumhĂ¶sl. Similarly, he presents the Uganda National Museum, also designed by May, which was looted during the 1971-1986 civil war. As a museum - an arbiter of culture - the building itself was the site of both a literal and symbolic battle.
PumhĂ¶sl brings home these battles by displaying various strategies endemic to art practice that incorporate similar techniques to colonialism. In his installation Humanist and Ecological Republic (2000), PumhĂ¶sl presents isolated architectural elements in a classic minimalist aesthetic style. He juxtaposes the contested history of Madagascar with the distanced, value-neutral elements of modernist architecture and aesthetics. For Proposal for a Space with More than One Video Projection, (Kampala and Jinja, Uganda), (2001), he projects his videos on three screens to offer the viewer multiple readings of the post-colonial legacy. The clean edges of modernist buildings seem suddenly foreboding. The authority of modernism can suddenly become the stark image of authoritarianism. Breaking from a single-channel video, PumhĂ¶sl brings multiple narratives to bear on the ongoing complicated story of Uganda.
In the Chandler Family Gallery, Hans Schabus presented Hole (Loch) (1999/2001), a seemingly straightforward video in which Schabus laboriously digs an enormous hole in the midst of a deciduous forest. One could hear the sound of his shovel digging rhythmically into the earth. Slowly this mundane event produced a sculptural object: a mound of dirt. With every shovel full of dirt, Schabus transforms the world around him and the process goes on endlessly.
A trained carpenter, Schabus approaches a variety of media from a sculptural perspective. Like many of his projects, Hole is accompanied by simple sculptural elements. Along two sides of the room hang velvet curtains titled The Knowledge of the End of a Night (Das Wissen vom Ende einer Nacht) (1999/2000). Like the hole, the curtains are an elemental manifestation of interior and exterior. The sculptural issues at play in the video (inside/outside) are now brought directly into the room.
These themes were evoked as well in his installation, Headquarters (Zentrale) (2001), located in the DeRosa Family Gallery. Schabus had incorporated many elements - including video, music, gears, wood, and Schnapps - in this installation. A record notched to create the jagged edges of a saw blade spins on the record player, and we hear the sounds of a circular saw when it spins. A toy train runs in a loop, embedded within an illuminated desk. A multi-colored wall, Rest in Piece (2001), pieced from wood scraps from previous art projects, encloses the space. The walls were built according to the exact size of his studio in Vienna and, like the curtains, they provide a barrier of sorts from the outside world. In the video, the use of these walls as a barrier takes on an almost horror-film sensibility: the walls close in, the studio is under siege.
The German title of the installation, Zentrale, refers to both the headquarters as a nerve center and to a centrifugal force. Both meanings were at play in this installation: the desk is equipped with complex James Bond-like controls: the record and train circle endlessly.
The video loop Headquarters elaborates and incorporates the structural elements in the installation. In the video, Schabus falls out of the sky and collapses on his desk, Terminator-like. With a dramatic soundtrack playing in the background (at times by Tom Waits), the camera follows Schabus as he drinks some water and pours the remainder down a drain, drills a hole in some wood, and further barricades himself in his studio with Rest in Piece. The materials in this installation (the sawblade record, for example) are ambiguous with multiple meanings. Themes of inside/outside and private/public appear and disappear as he moves around his studio conducting small tasks. The dramatic tension increases until Schabus is confronted abruptly with his doppelganger: the ultimate ambiguity of his schizophrenic self.
Heimo Zobernig works not so much in a gallery as on a gallery: he makes background elements - walls, chairs, signs, benches - into the subject of his work, analyzing not only the bricks-and-mortar foundation of museums, but also (and more importantly) the intellectual foundation of art. We accept white gallery walls, didactic texts, and other museological accoutrement as givens, but Zobernig insists they have a history and an agenda, just like the works of art they support.
In Untitled (1991/2002), Zobernig created two separate rooms. One is a white-walled gallery turned inside-out so it becomes a white box, with striped colored paintings on the outside. The other is a dark room with exterior walls exposed and unfinished. As Thomas Trummer points out in his essay for the Uncommon Denominator catalogue, these two minimal boxes embody the classic structures of exhibition display: the modernist white cube for hanging art works in hieratic isolation, and the black box for theatrical video projection (see the Florian PumhĂ¶sl and Peter Kolger works for the classic "black box" displays). Zobernig has dissected the entire system of museological display.
For his videos on display in Uncommon Denominator, Zobernig worked with chroma-key blue-screen technology. In order to make Spiderman fly, or spaceships blast off, or weather maps move, filmmakers and television producers use chroma-key blue to superimpose composite images against video backdrops. An actor balancing on a chroma-key blue pedestal can be made to fly in the clouds. In one sense, chroma-key blue allows a filmmaker to fill space with desire.
In his Video 18 (2000), shown at the 49th Venice Biennale 2001, Zobernig expanded the familiar blue-screen technique to include other colors. Using video technology, brightly colored blankets become a rotating chroma-key. Disappearing and reappearing, Zobernig crawls under the blankets. The chroma-key veil is perpetually changing and capturing the artist within the tangled video color-spaces.
Zobernig's work seems complicated because it is distilled and compact. Are white walls really neutral? When do video installations stop being art and start being theater? Is there a difference? Do frames matter? These are some of the questions that Zobernig insists we consider when viewing his art.
"Venice and so on, sfumato and so on, Titian and so on. And Tintoretto and so on. And neon light, and so on. Count Vlad and so on. And at last no colors and also no inspiration or ideas and also no intention." â€“ Herbert Brandl, 1998
Herbert Brandl studied at the Academy of Applied Arts with one of Europe's most important art theorists and champions of new media art, Peter Weibel, yet Brandl's art is lush, direct, and infused with the resplendency of painting rather than the abstract concepts of aesthetic theory. His early works of the 1980s were built from sheets of pure color. Tactile, rich, and thick with impasto, these paintings gradually gave way to works in which transparent washes were added in layers, creating striking luminescence. Then, as if to counter the sometimes illusionistic depths of these works, Brandl began adding a fine aerosol coating of metallic paint, turning the light back onto the viewer and stopping the progression into depth (while also creating an even more seductive surface). In Brandl's latest works - the magnificently sized mountainscapes on view here - we see a range of technique nearly as breathtaking as the mountain views themselves: washes, impastos, scraping, virtuoso brushwork, and an unlikely juxtaposition of color, to say nothing of the beautiful draftsmanship we feel just beneath the paint's surface.
The steady evolution of Brandl's painting technique - the methodical exploration of brushwork, the inventive experimentation with color, and the endless development of new surface textures - is actually more than skillful manipulation of form; it is Brandl's subject matter. Brandl begins with the act of painting as his subject, rather than with a theoretical concept that comes from outside the act of painting. He views painting as one among many strategies to making art today, alongside video, film, sculpture, and installation art. This position - formulated with Weibel in the early 1980s - disencumbers painting from the tangled aesthetic debates surrounding representation, figuration, abstraction, and expressionism. Detached, almost disinterested - "sfumato and so on â€¦ Titian and so on" - we sense in Brandl's dramatic brushwork a kind of skillful simulation at work. His brushmarks read as exemplars of technique, one brushstroke among a catalogue of many possibilities, rather than as a record of expressionistic passion, or for that matter as a visual analogue of mountains. In this way Brandl's paintings win the kind of critical distance etched out by contemporary German painters Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, who also make use of sheer variety of style to reclaim the pictorial space of the canvas as legitimate territory for art making: this is painting for the age of media theory.
Brandl sought models for his work; he also looked to the history of Austrian painting. Even before the "Vienna Spring", a series of important exhibitions and festivals that brought turn-of-the-century Viennese art and design to the fore, Brandl was studying the work of Richard Gerstl and Arnold Schoenberg, whose introspective, structured form of expressionism had little to do with the lyrical, emotive expressionism of Kandinsky or the Fauves. Yet the works are not without drama: we are, after all, suspended in space in these mountainscapes. They are views of the Alps, as seen from midair.
Johanna Kandl's politics are personal, and they make for luminous painting. In 1980, Kandl spent a year as an exchange student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. She learned to speak Serbo-Croat, made many friends, and got a picture of life behind the Iron Curtain in Tito's communist Yugoslavia. This experience informs her work to this day: the images are almost always drawn from experiences Kandl had with people for whom the collision of East and West, the chafing of capitalism against communism and socialism, has consequences for everyday life.
Kandl paints in the ancient medium of egg tempera, thinning her paints with beer, which allows for a more finely gradated wash than water does. Her small, glowing paintings are installed on an unusual structure that recalls the shape of a ship. The paintings are divided into three groups, and each group grew out of a project Kandl undertook with people on the margins of Viennese or Austrian society. The first group of works, the Black Sea series, detailed Kandl's trip down the Danube from Vienna to the Black Sea on a commercial ship - thus the installation plan. The Danube begins in Germany and passes through Austria, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria, where it feeds into the Black Sea. In these light-filled paintings - in a style indebted to social realism - Kandl depicted vignettes from the lives of the people she met and the problems that the end of the Cold War, as well as the war in Yugoslavia, brought to them. A bridge in Serbia blown up by NATO in 1998, for example, blocked all traffic on the Danube, one of the most important commercial routes through Eastern Europe and the second largest river in Europe.
Another group of Kandl's paintings addressed the war in Yugoslavia and a visit that Kandl made there. The final group focused on marketplaces, where the clash of global capitalism with the people of eastern Europe - whether in Bratislava or Vienna - is often at its most absurd and poignant. In the paintings, scenes of daily life were paired with brief texts in English, German, or Serbo-Croat. In the gulf between these simple texts ("You will manage teams and portfolios around the globe") and images (two babushka-wearing market women selling cheap made-in-China tee-shirts) Kandl gently, wryly nudges us towards an understanding of the disconnection between two worlds.
Lois Weinberger grew up on a farm in the alpine village of Stems in Tyrolia, which he continues to visit frequently. Early in his career, he acquired a fascination for ruderals or useless plants that have since become the center of his work. A ruderal plant is one that grows where the natural vegetational cover has been disturbed by humans.
Interestingly, the word ruderal has become a synonym for weeds; Weinberger explores the complications that arise when nature re-emerges in an otherwise controlled human landscape. Using ruderals, Weinberger compares that which is free and that which is imprisoned, that which is wild and natural and that which is controlled and man-made. Weinberger uses the wild growth of the weeds and their ability to flourish in even the harshest and most unnatural conditions to make statements about contemporary life - some subtle and some not so subtle.
In Portable Garden (1994/2002) Weinberger collected ruderals from North Adams such as golden rod, crab grass, and dandelions, and let them populate and spread in plastic bags. These particular bags are recognizable to Austrians as the bags the poor immigrants of Eastern Europe and Africa use to carry groceries and belongings. In Portable Garden, the bags have become a fertile nest. Thistles and dandelions mingle in their new environment. The ruderals' ability to thrive in sometimes unwelcoming environments links them metaphorically to the immigrant communities in whose shopping bags they now prosper.
The theme of displacement and transplantation and the accompanying questions of home/homelessness and indigenous/foreign surfaced more forcefully an exhibition at the Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in 1998. There Weinberger introduced European ruderal plants in a museum roof garden built by Swiss architect Mario Botta. Playing on the cultural collisions of Japanese and Western cultures, he used the gardens to explore these issues.
In a later project, Garden of Eden (2001) (also perviously on view at MASS MoCA), Weinberger maps out a ruderal orchestra. The map displays a symphony with weeds taking first-violin and trombone. The design presents a systematized symphony of differences. Weinberger's works are often infused with text that is often lyrical and poetic, but also scientific and encyclopedic. For Course/Drift (2001), Weinberger developed a map consisting of a fictitious geography. At first, the map appears to illustrate urban sprawl (denoted by the street geometry) encroaching upon nature (denoted by its topographical, organic shape). On closer viewing, the natural terrain reveals itself at least as systematized and abundant as the more hexagonic urban design. Instead of roads and place names, the map includes nouns and adjectives that are independent of grammar, allowing for free associative connections. In this case the map has no finite, precise syntax - rather it is relational and based on a dynamic system closer in feeling to the ebb and flow of ecology than geography.
Otto Zitko's generation of Viennese artists had to forge a new direction and define themselves distinctly from the powerful Actionist movemement of the 1960s. The Actionists, a group of Viennese artists including Otto Muhl, Gunter BrĂĽs, Rudolph Schwarzkogler, and Hermann Nitsch, were towering figures in Austrian art. Known for their ritualistic blood-infused displays of violence and explicit sexuality, the Actionist sought to return the realm of art to nature and lived experience. Zitko and his peers, such as Franz West and Herbert Brandl, under the influence of Peter Weibl at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, developed a different approach. While they often focused on the body, linguistic theory and formal abstraction took the place of bacchanal excess.
Otto Zitko draws, or scribbles, directly on the surface of a wall or a panel of aluminum. He favors oil sticks for rich colors and saturated textures that seem to ooze. He uses the pure line with intensity and care, developing large circles and hatched outer sections. His style seems to emerge from the force and energy of full body gestures.
His wall drawings fill surfaces and rooms with meticulous, oversized scribbles. The immediacy of each gesture provides an intimacy with the present. The direct and instantaneous transference between emotion and action is communicated with erratic and frenzied strokes.
Sometimes Zitko produces long clean lines by attaching his oil stick to a pole and standing back from the wall, extending his reach to surprising lengths. Though his work may appear produced in one quick motion, he works at the wall, cross-hatching and smearing with intensity and care. Lawn-green maelstroms and brick-red torrents jump and dive to every immediate gesture. An antagonism between the lines develops since there is noticeably no center point of concentration. One cannot emphasize a particular center, but must physically move around and scan to gain a sense of the contradictory elements in his vast works. The endless loops defy architectural space and cut across it with immediate determination.
Architecture becomes mobile - and design becomes overwhelming - in Peter Kogler's eight-projector video installation for Uncommon Denominator. His hypnotic black and white grids swirl and flood the visual senses as the room becomes a labyrinth. Kogler's classic aesthetic gyrates and travels in an undulating weave.
Decorative qualities rarely feel so overwhelming, but Peter Kogler's work is an exception. He has teamed up with Vienna disc jockey and sound designer Franz Pomassl, with whom he has worked on previous projects, to create a sensory space that expands and contracts in a hypnotic rhythm.
Kogler's decorative sensibility builds on a long Viennese tradition. Along with the continental Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century, the Vienna Secessionists - including Gustav Klimt and architect Josef Maria Olbrich - strove to create the total artwork (Gesamtkunstwerk) which would harmonize and synthesize art, sculpture, design, and architecture. Additionally, Kogler's work derives from a Viennese interpretation on the Neo-Geo movement of the mid-`80s (along with fellow Viennese artists Heimo Zobernig and Gerwald Rockenschaub). Like Optical Art of the 1960s, Neo-Geo used hypnotic patterns and contrasting color combinations to produce visually evocative paintings; however, these were painted within a figurative framework. Utilizing both pop and theoretical influences, the paintings included figurative elements like conduits and pipelines. Kogler's work includes both design and figurative elements that have gradually increased in scale and presence.
The holistic design sense that has characterized much of Viennese art throughout the 20th century finds a strange outlet in Peter Kogler's work; Kogler has generated his work by computer since 1984. Working in a variety of media including paintings, wallpaper, video and sculptures, he always makes the viewer aware of the digital source. His choices of color and design are purposefully anachronistic and pixilated: whereas many digital artists strive to create a virtual illusion, Kogler works with the basic shapes (squares, cylinders, spheres) that are the foundation of computer-generated art.
In the late '80s, Kogler began addressing large-scale architectural issues. He produced computer-generated wallpaper that covered the walls of galleries and museums. His subject matter included millions of ants and twisting networks of pipes or brains that consumed the architectural space. The work brings to mind science fiction films in their raw digital format. He has recently expanded his media to include inflatable tubes, curtains, sculpture and even panty hose. As Kogler continues to expand his media, the result is most assuredly a collective sense of vertigo with space itself inflating, collapsing, and spiraling out of control.
Plamen Dejanov & Swetlana Heger
Now working individually, Plamen Dejanov and Swetlana Heger worked collaboratively from 1995 to 2001. Although the pair often display objects as part of their work during that period, their art is not based on things. Instead, their art exists in the aura of the brand name and in the nether reaches of the marketplace, where value and price are determined as much by taste, desire, and surplus cash, as by workmanship, utility, and need.
Corporate support of the arts comes in many shapes and sizes, but rarely is it displayed so unabashedly as it is in Quite Normal Luxury II (2001). Glass rims, miniature race cars, and an oversized Formula 1 oilcan appear with almost fetish-like presence. As if in an automotive showroom, these objects display and promote the famous German automotive company. But, why here?
Dejanov and Heger use information, and in particular transactional relationships, as other artists use paint. In other works the artists have used their commissioning fees to take a vacation, with their travels becoming a work of art. In another project, they rented out their exhibition time in a gallery to other artists, using the revenue from their real estate venture to purchase art works of friends, which they then displayed as their "show".
For Quite Normal Luxury II, the typically hidden relationships between corporate funders and artists were brought to light. Starting with Quite Normal Luxury I, their work shifted from negotiations between gallerists and artists to contracts with corporate sponsors. The process was initiated through a deal with Christine Zentgraf, Director of BMW KulturKommunikation. The contract negotiated between them stipulated that BMW received guaranteed exposure for its brands in Dejanov and Heger's exhibitions worldwide, and Dejanov and Heger received a new BMW Z3 Roadster.
As one might imagine, the contract is controversial for the venues that display it. A curator in Munich walked out on the project when he discovered what Dejanov and Heger had in mind.
Exposing the commercial relationships intrinsic to exhibition development ruffles many feathers, just as it turns the focus back on the institution itself. Dejanov and Heger's nonchalant laissez-faire attitude complicates this process. It is perhaps relevant that the two artists are from Eastern Europe, a region recently transformed by the market economy. Closer to the glossy celebratory style of Pop artists like Jeff Koons than the hard-hitting social critique of artists like Hans Haacke, their flippant approach can be both frustrating and elusive. And though the work is vexing, their forays into relationships build on an important contemporary motif. So called "relational aesthetics" came in vogue in the 1990s with artists Liam Gillick, Rikrit Tiravanija, Pierre Huyghe, Superflex, and Jorge Pardo. As the information age is just beginning, so too have we just begun to see art work based on theories of institutional exchange, relationships, and the elusive qualities of branding and market value.
Walter Obholzer's paintings of the 1990s, created on thin sheets of aluminum, are part of a long artistic engagement with ornament and architecture. His abstract images probe the limits of the design system he creates. His work builds on the 20th century Viennese tradition of the total artwork (Gesamtkunstwerk), typified by the decorative abstract works of Josef Hoffmann. In Obholzer's paintings and wall drawings, each part refers to the whole and vice versa: a knot becomes a web, the web becomes a wall, an entire building breaks down to thousands of small sub-systems (posts, beams, bricks, window panes).
Obholzer works from a large personal library of similar (but subtly differentiated) designs. His library contains many derivations on both the Otuka 6 B (2000) and the Blue Dumpling for a Wall (1998), on view in Uncommon Denominator. Otuka is a Japanese word for a person obsessed by a specific topic (colloquially it refers to an avid collector of Japanese comics), but it also refers to a self-absorbed graphic design style. With Obholzer's design system, a large geometric design determines the shape of the interior rhombus pattern. If the framing design is stretched, so too are the internal areas. This contingent, reflexive, self-generative design system allows both singularity and cohesion.
Erwin Wurm, Fat Car II, (2001). Photo by Arthur Evans