Sunday, 14 August 2016

Exhibition Review: Poetics of change, Museum der Moderne, Monchsberg, Salzburg (April – Oct 2016), curated by Sabine Breitwieser and Antonia Lotz

Text by Mihaela Varzari

Published with Revista ARTA, print version, issue 22-23, 2016
Thirty artists whose works belong to the collections of both Museum der Moderne and the Generali Foundation review the social changing in our recent times and its responses. Poetics of change starts from the premise that poetics respond to conceptual art’s lack of aesthetic qualities. A series of 22 photomontages titled Elke Krystufek reads Otto Weininger (1993), hang from the ceiling, allowing for the works to be viewed on both sides while only one work is mounted on the opposite wall. Sex with cartoon characters never seemed more fun than in this piece, where the Pink Panther touches the naked female body of a cut-out image from a porn magazine. Almost all works incorporate depictions of women from porn magazines and superimposed text extracts by not so popular with gender politics, the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger. Krystufek’s take on gender and sexuality within the Austrian context, introduces female characters, worthy of Russ Meyer’s oversexed power girls. If innocence is there to be lost and never regained, why not take control of our own female representations?  

Hans Hollein, 1969 Mobile Buro. Courtesy of Museum der Moderne Salzburg
Austrian artist Arnulf Rainer’s Face Grimaces (1969–1970), a series of 12 black-and-white photographs of himself pulling faces, bear the stamp of the Situationists’ Aktions. Had they been made now, they could have added to different ways of avoiding face recognition on and offline within the current era ridden with surveillance. Like in Krystufek’s montages, the installation of Face Grimaces allows for one work to stand out, a photograph painted over with heavy black paint strokes. On both instances the choice of setting apart two works grant them status of singularity and insularity; or perhaps they become written announcements, posters like for the respective series. 
Portfolio of Doggedness (1968) stays within the realm of direct art and it documents VALIE EXPORT barely containing her laughter taking Peter Weibel for a walk on a leash through the streets of Vienna. Mobile office (1969) is an inflatable, transparent little tower to fit one person, a type writer, a phone and an agenda. It becomes an anticipation of our current lifestyle where administration tasks confuse leisure and work time. The Viennese architect/artist Hans Hollein’s intention was to offer a quite humorous alternative to architecture’s obsession with building houses for sale. Another temporary construction of similar size but in a see-through red tent decorated with tiny, hand knitted boots, which gives it an Oriental twist. It houses a small figurine featuring pre-historic motifs drawn on the base supporting two tiny tiger-like animals in motion. Brazilian Henna Night (2014) is only one of the four works the Turkish artist Nilbar Güreș features in the show. The Red Tent (1997) is also a novel by Anita Diamant, set in during the First Testament time. The red tent is a place occupied only by women while menstruating or giving birth, a place of comfort and mutual understanding, similarly to today’s Damascus, which is mainly inhabited by women since men enrolled in the army or became refugees. 
Hans Haacke, Visitors' Profile, 1971. Courtesy of Museum der Moderne Salzburg

As opposed to the American conceptual artists interested in the dematerialization of art as a critique of the market, it appears that humor allowed the Actionists to dismantle formalism in quite different ways. The more clinical and cold conceptual art the show claims to challenge is represented by the German-born, US-based artist Hans Haacke (1936) who re-enacts a much older work, which introduced statistics into the arts for perhaps the first time. The visitors are asked to fill in a questionnaire related to ethics within art and education institutions. The responses are pinned up on the wall, facing the sculpture Ice Table (1967). At first, this approx one square meter of white-ish masse sitting on a metal pedestal indicates a whole range of possible materials from marble to plastic or salt. Upon closer inspection it proves to be ice and the metal pedestal is a fridge, which keeps this oversized ice cube alive. Haacke’s sculpture is analogous to the power structure maintaining the existing institutions whereas the ice stays cool as long as the power structure is preserved. 
For better or worse, the change in Europe is in the air and circling around such redundant discussions like analysis versus beauty or thought versus desire seems increasingly alienating. In addition, humor surfaces as an unintended thread, which pushes the Austrian artists associated with Actionists into a different direction, freeing it from the so-called rational aesthetics, announced by the curatorial team.

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