BY Vitus Weh in Reviews | 28 MAY 12
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Issue 5


Georg Kargl Fine Arts

BY Vitus Weh in Reviews | 28 MAY 12

1964, 2012, Installation view

It is unusual for a commercial art gallery to leave its usual terrain and to attempt something with a cultural historical bent in the public interest. But that is precisely what happened in this exhibition.

Curated by Georg Kargl, 1964 was born of a weariness with the negative mood of the present day and aimed to present a cross section of a year which Kargl describes as one of ‘dynamic awakenings’.

The exhibition was built with close attention to detail around two major historical events of the year in question: the New York World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows in Queens and the International Garden Festival at Vienna’s Donaupark. Within this framework, the exhibition is meant to resemble ‘a stroll between Vienna and New York’ (as the press release tells us). It begins with an overview of works from 1964: Robert Smithson’s Homage to Carmen Miranda, a colourful Pop art painting from the period before the artist turned his attention to the themes of entropy and Land art, and Chuck Close’s Seated Woman, an expressionist collage not at all reminiscent of the photo­realism for which he was later to become famous. Both appeared alongside a hanging silver polyester object by Bruno Gironcoli (Kopf, Head) and opposite a self-portrait by Oswald Oberhuber (Ich als Kind, Me As A Child). These works were accompanied by a promotional film about the New York World’s Fair. The way to the main exhibition hall was lined with works by artists including Hans Hollein (Kerzengeschäft Retti, Retti’s Candle Store), Günter Brus (Selbstbemalung, Self-Painting), Andy Warhol (Birmingham Race Riot), Richard Artschwager and Marcel Duchamp, whose oeuvre had just been re­discovered at the time.

Finally, in the main hall, countless original items – such as models, photographs, postcards and souvenirs – provided a context to situate the art works within life in 1964. These documents focused on icons of the New York World’s Fair: the Unisphere, which was a huge scale model of the Earth with steel girders that could compete with the Eiffel Tower; or Austria’s pavilion, which represented one of the many national and regional displays and which was designed by Gustav Peichl, although his load-bearing structure of three monumental A-shapes (for Austria, Alps and Atmosphere) appears today as something of a caricature. This nation-based approach was not limited to world’s fairs and art exhibitions; it was also a leitmotif in the creation of parks and gardens, with Vienna inviting landscape architects from 12 nations (including Brazil’s Roberto Burle Marx and Sweden’s Edvard Jacobson) to design ‘nation gardens’. While many buildings from the World’s Fair have survived in New York, little remains of these gardens in Vienna; they truly were temporary, as called for at the time by the artists from the Fluxus movement who are represented in the show with a work by Addi Köpcke.

Was the year 1964 really such a ‘dynamic awakening’? The exhibition – with its strict time frame, historical distance and contextualization – showed the conflicting multitude of political, economic, stylistic and biographical paths that came together during this year. Many of these paths were dead ends: Smithson and Close, for example, had yet to enter their now-canonized phase. Hindsight offers no such ennobling perspective for the outdoor sculptures and decorative art works grouped around the Austrian pavilion in New York. As the exhibition demonstrated, sculptures and buildings are far more closely tied to the context in which they emerge than an image-based work is. And they clearly fade away with their time – a process that sculpture parks and museums can do little to prevent.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell