Artists and Poets is a somewhat misleading title, given that there are no ‘artist-poets’ or ‘poet-artists’ to be found in this exhibition. The only artist in this show who is also active as a poet is the curator, Ugo Rondinone. Rondinone has, in the best possible sense, authored this exhibition. Following The Third Mind (Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2007) and the spirit level (Gladstone Gallery, New York, 2012), this is the third show that Rondinone has dedicated to the relationship, in a very broad sense, between art and poetry.
At the Secession in Vienna, this relationship is rooted above all in the forced conjunction of things that fundamentally do not belong together. The process itself is straightforward: the artists are all represented by groupings of works, and are arranged into pairs that are placed in dialogue in the various rooms. The term ‘dialogue’ as it is generally understood, however, does not describe what is going on here. There is no real substantive tête-à-tête in Rondinone’s pairings – the artworks are too divergent in their styles, ages, backgrounds and networks of references.
Take, for example, the pared-down drawings by Bob Law, who took part in British Minimal Art in the 1970s, juxtaposed with monumental concrete sculptures by Justin Matherly, who was born in 1972 (including Sniffing for every jungle (e.t.s.p.n.g.l.), 2013). Elsewhere, Heimo Zobernig’s black cardboard sculptures from the mid-1980s are combined with painted postage stamps from fictional countries by American artist Donald Evans, who died in 1977 (including Cadaqués. 1964. Fruits and Vegetables. 1975). Geometric paintings by Gerwald Rockenschaub are positioned facing Fritz Panzer’s fragile, linear wire sculptures (Judenburg, Prenning und Gutmann, 2014). Colourful works on canvas by Giorgio Griffa, one of the founders of the Pittura Analitica movement in Italy in the 1960s, are shown alongside German artist Michaela Eichwald’s assemblages of hands cast in resin (including Peinliche Verhörung mit Tortor (Hand), 2010). New York-based artist Michael Williams’ recent experimental paintings, which operate at the interface of digital and analogue techniques, face Andra Ursuta’s brightly coloured stools that are cast from her own buttocks (including Misleading Light At The End Of The Tunnel, 2012). And cast-metal cosmological monstronsities by the largely-forgotten Austrian sculptor Fritz Hartlauer, who died in 1985, are placed alongside dynamic, expressive, large-scale paintings by Tamuna Sirbiladze, who was born in 1971 (including Pure formalism, 2012). Finally, Andrew Lord’s three-dimensional realizations of the vessels and objects visible in Paul Gauguin’s paintings (including by starlight, Carson mesa (Gauguin), 2013) stand in the middle of the room bearing Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (1902) which is permanently exhibited at the Secession.
These subjective combinations of works are not in dialogue with each other in the exhibition as ‘elective affinities’. Rather the Greek term diá-logos in the sense of ‘flowing meaning’ seems more appropriate here. The term ‘flowing’, at least, suits Rondinone’s poetics. In the press release, he writes: ‘For poets and artists, the world is a collage of fragments drifting past. There is no larger plan and no linear logic, only fleeting images as if passing by outside a train window.’
Where the art succeeds particular constellations of fragments give rise to something like a meaning or a rhyme. But this meaning is intuitive, not discursive. Rondinone’s combinations are oriented neither towards social commentary nor towards thematic content. What is presented is primarily the directorial method itself and the conviction that art has spiritual and transcendental power.
Likely the best-known precedent for such a curatorial approach is documenta 7 in Kassel in 1982. The artistic director, Rudi Fuchs, stressed at the time that above all, the exhibition should ‘do justice to the dignity of art’. The principle of aesthetic correspondence and the impact of the work’s presence were emphasized, while reality remained at the door. Inside, Richard Long’s stone circles faced Anselm Kiefer’s sand-and-lead Prussian paintings (including Märkischer Sand, 1982), while Mario Merz’s spirals were juxtaposed with Arnulf Rainer’s overpaintings (Fingerfarbenfest, 1978). Compared to such pathos, Rondinone’s rhyming pairs are far more poetic and playful. Somehow they seem suited to the present moment. Yet, the fact that this historical, explicitly museological approach has been taken up again remains suprising.
Translated by Jane Yager