Critic’s Guide: Vienna

With curated_by running till 14 October, a roundup of the best shows in the Austrian capital

BY Kimberly Bradley in Critic's Guides | 26 SEP 17

Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader, Classified Digits, 201, film still. Courtesy: Carroll / Fletcher, London

‘A.I. Artistic Intelligence’
Galerie Crone
15 September – 14 October 2017

Curated_by is Vienna’s annual city-sponsored gallery festival. In it, 21 local galleries are paired with international curators, each of whom presents a show on a predetermined theme. This year’s topic is ‘image/reads/text’, and at Galerie Crone, Austrian-born Berlin-based media theorist Paul Feigelfeld deals with digital writing. Instead of script originated by humans his focus is on machine-generated communication.

Feigelfeld’s show cuts through time and medium: on view are historical works such as Joseph Beuys’s 2190 Tage bis zum Ende des Kapitalismus (2190 Days Until the End of Capitalism) (1981), a heavy stack of paper printed by an early computer system. More contemporary artists play with how machines and humans ‘write’ and communicate: Ignacio Uriarte examines how different manual typewriters create full stops; photographs of the ink blots on paper are shown in extreme magnification and appear almost like sculptural documentation. Julian Oliver’s The Orchid Projects (2015) shows simple onscreen images of orchids but the algorithm generating the images contains source code for Stuxnet malware. In the exhibition’s black box, Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader’s video Classified Digits (2016) humorously addresses the nuances and miscommunications of American Sign Language. Here, a lonely printer sits in the back corner: it is Oliver’s Stealth Cell Tower (2016) a cellular service provider that can hijack viewers’ smartphones, send them texts, then print out the correspondence. The show highlights the unsettling fact that not only have machines taken over the task of documenting, counting, and archiving, but that everywhere and always, things are communicating not only with us but about us, usually without our knowledge.

‘Schreibtischuhr’, 2017, installation view, Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna. Courtesy: Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna

Galerie Meyer Kainer
15 September – 11 November 2017

Curated by philosopher and art historian John Rajchman, the main gallery space has viewers navigate a parcours of carefully chosen 20th century desks. On each is a stack of texts by the curator (apparently in an odd pidgin English); horizontal sculptures (‘Units’) by Liam Gillick punctuate the walls with bars of colour like a visual Morse code. Various objects – a watch, keys, a baseball cap – are mysteriously set upon one desk, perhaps indicating the ritual of writing, and Philippe Parreno’s now-familiar metallic fish balloons float through the space, making it a giant fishbowl in addition to a kind of reading (or writing?) room. In June, Gillick, who helped Rajchman choose the artists for this show, wrote to the latter: ‘this might be a good time to think about the production of objects that are embedded with language. Forcing a material to speak is another way of putting this in a more concrete way.’ Taking this statement at face value, one could say this show is a choir of whispers, forcing viewers to slow down (a reference to the ‘desk clock’ of the show’s title?) and listen.

‘Kriwet’, 2017, installation view: Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna. Courtesy: Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna; photograph: Moritz Wegwerth

Georg Kargl
15 September – 30 November 2017

Veteran gallerist Georg Kargl’s expansive, mostly subterranean space (now rebranded ‘Gesellschaft für Projektive Aesthetics’ – Society of Projective Aesthetics) becomes a long meander into the mind of Dusseldorf-born multimedia artist Ferdinand Kriwet. Curated by Kunsthalle Düsseldorf director Gregor Jansen, this is one of only three curated_by exhibitions dedicated to single artist. Kriwet – whose work in concrete poetry, nonlinear writing, and sound work dates to the 1960s – gets a mini-retrospective that showcases his early collages (strips of printed texts in black and white); then moves to more complex Text-Kreis-Sequenzen, which are mandala-like experimentations with circular forms composed of letters acting as formal abstractions rather than contextual signifiers. The literal meaning of language disappears within an abstract blur, but only at first (some words are decipherable). In the gallery’s largest space are Kriwet’s large-scale pop-art-like collage of period advertising material and wordy wall hangings; in the back reading room, the artist has made his books available as folders, allowing viewers to ponder decades of his using words and letters as rich, wonderfully pliable material.

Martha Jungwirth, Grüner Schuh (Green Shoe), 1970, crayon, pencil on tracing paper, 88 x 62 cm. Courtesy: Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna; photograph: mumok © Bildrecht Wien 2017

‘Oh … Jakob Lena Knebl and the Mumok Collection’
mumok – Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna
17 March – 22 October 2017

A project conceived by artist Jakob Lena Knebl and curated by Barbara Rüdiger and Susanne Neuburger, this recast of mumok’s permanent collection is exuberant, irreverent, and very Viennese. Over two storeys of the museum the local gender-bending queer performance artist presents jolting and sometimes joyous juxtapositions as well as ‘arrangements’ combining objects from the Mumok’s formidable design collection (Prouvé shelving; mid-century seating) with sculptures, videos, photographs, and even fashion pieces by a long list of artistic heavy hitters, from Josef Albers to Heimo Zobernig. The install is idiosyncratic – a Cindy Sherman photograph casually rests on a chair, a Giacometti wears a red dress, a Picasso is only viewable in one of many mirrors. The body and sexual experimentation is ever-present. Knebl’s own newly produced work – including an interactive avatar performance (available to visitors via mobile devices on the hour) and several expansive installations incorporating body-con self-portraiture, fashion, and playful architecture, evoke the pop aesthetics and Viennese actionism of the 1970s, gay club culture in the 1980s and ’90s, and (to be frighteningly specific) British drag performer and Lucian Freud muse, Leigh Bowery, whom Knebl eerily resembles.

AES+F, Inverso Mundus, 2015, HD film still. Courtesy: the artists and Galerie Knoll, Vienna

‘While Mr. Schulze is reading, the Balkan train crosses the bridge at Nisch, a pig whines in the cellar of the butcher Nuttke.’
Knoll Galerie
15 September – 4 November 2017

Curator Adrian Notz (director of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of dada) fittingly explores the idea of the ‘simultaneous poem’ originally described in a 1918 reading of the Dadaist Manifesto that lends this exhibition its name. In the first room of the narrow exhibition space hang classical figures from the Romanum Belvedere of the Vatican’s Museum of Antiquity, rendered by machine-printing images of Venus, Apollo, and many other classical figures on small canvases. The rest of the space, save for one blank wall in the back room, is wallpapered with Mexican artist Carlos Amorales’s Xerograph posters. Their thick black and white lines combine writings – many of them obscene phrases like ‘fuck off’ – with human and other figures that evoke a kind of Hieronymus Bosch-like vision of hell. Screening in the back space is Russian collective AES+F’s digital film Inverso Mundus (2015) a hyperreal dystopian vision of a world gone mad, populated by strange creatures and selfie-obsessed humans, perhaps just a few years in the future. The viewer quickly realizes the arbitrary nature of temporal narratives; that neither history nor the language used to describe it can and should be linear.

Gina Pane, Souvenir enroulé d'un matin bleu (Rolled memory of a blue sky), 1969, blue felt and wood, 8 x 90 x 30 cm. Courtesy: Emanuel Layr, Vienna; photograph: Maximilian Anelli-Monti

‘Threads Left Dangling, Veiled in Ink’
Emanuel Layr
15 September – 4 November 2017

Paris-based curator Béatrice Gross has assembled an intriguing group show in which language is transmuted into invisible and visible forms. Julian Bismuth’s haunting images of a region in the Amazon each ‘imbed’ a hidden text within the pictures’ pixels (the images were taken near the habitat of a tribe whose language includes not only spoken sounds but also hums, and whistles). Ellie Ga’s two-channel video essay (Measuring the Circle, 2013-14) runs on the vaulted-ceilinged gallery’s back wall, mesmerisingly describing a foray to the lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt, in both words and images: several sequences of which show a visual puzzle being assembled, like a sentence. But the most striking work here is 1960s body artist Gina Pane’s single blue bar installed on a wall like a towel rack; it is rolled felt on a metal support upon which Ricordo avvolto di un mattino blu (‘Memory wrapped in a blue morning’) is engraved. Here, words intermingle with images and objects, but it is the images and objects that are given the most poetic license.

James Webb, Entitled (Vienna), 2017, Ikebana arrangements of weeds, alien and invasive plants (with special thanks to Ruiko Friesacher and Herbert Grünsteidl), 1.7 x 1.6 x 1 m; 31 Visions of the Afterlife, 2015, radio with transmiter and audiophile, 11 x 19 x 4 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Nathalie Halgand, Vienna

‘Home is So Fucking Complicated’
Galerie Nathalie Halgand
15 September – 4 November 2017

Opening in 2016, Nathalie Halgand is amongst Vienna’s newest galleries – paving the way for a number of commercial galleries and a handful of project spaces that have opened in the Austrian capital throughout 2017. Here, Swiss curator Samuel Leuenberger, the founder of SALTS in Basel, explores the notion of ‘home’ in a show sparsely installed in Halgand’s cosy multi-roomed apartment space. Berlin-based American artist Ethan Hayes-Chute reproduces a rustic cabin wall, the period objects in it signifiers of Americana; James Webb dissolves poems and song lyrics on paper in coloured liquid displayed in stopped bottles, and creates ikebana arrangements (each flower representing a concept, like a word); Stéphanie Saadé’s simple framed pieces, such as one in which the word ‘origin’ appears with the first two letters in gold leaf, underscore the power and deceptive simplicity of language. In an era of fragmented communication in half-sentences and emojis, global migration and precarity, what, who, and where is home?

curated_by vienna, featuring 21 Viennese galleries paired with international curators, runs till 14 October 2017.

Kimberly Bradley is an art critic, journalist, editor, educator and moderator based in Berlin.