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Issue 238

The Enduring Performance Behind Edita Schubert’s Perforated Canvases

At Galerie Molitor, Berlin, a posthumous exhibition dedicated to the artist shows a selection of her cut-out canvases from the 1970s

BY Talia Kwartler in Exhibition Reviews | 31 JUL 23

Can a performance endure within a painting? This question circles around Edita Schubert’s ‘Self-Portrait Behind a Perforated Canvas’ at Galerie Molitor. It is the first solo exhibition in Germany dedicated to the artist, who exhibited mainly in her native Croatia before she died in 2001. The presentation features a selection of Schubert’s cut-out canvases from the 1970s, as well as photographs in which she activates these works. This compact show suggests that the artist’s use of her own body can be seen in dialogue with her work as an anatomical draughtsperson at the University of Zagreb’s School of Medicine where she also had her studio.

Edita Schubert, ‘Self-Portrait Behind a Perforated Canvas’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: Galerie Molitor, Berlin; photograph: Marjorie Brunet Plaza

The exhibition’s title derives from a work displayed alone in the first gallery of the three-floor space. It comprises a single frame containing 16 photocopied photographs of the artist interacting with the cut-out paintings that populate the gallery. Arranged in two rows of eight, with an additional lone photograph at the base, the work shows Schubert revealing parts of herself through cut-out triangles. We see a hand drawing the cut-out, then a finger, then another finger, a nose, an eye, lips, teeth, tongue, an ear. If the title indicates that this performance is a self-portrait, then it is as if the artist is exposing the parts of herself that connect to her senses.

Edita Schubert, Perforated Canvas (Performed), 1978, acrylic and medical tape on canvas, 2.3 × 1.4 m. Courtesy: Galerie Molitor, Berlin; photograph: Marjorie Brunet Plaza

The show contains seven works from a series of eleven, ‘Perforated Canvas (Performed)’ (1977–78), the range of which is conveyed by an initial pairing of two canvases with different coloured backgrounds – one midnight blue, one off-white – that impact the patterns created by the cut-out shapes. Adhered to the canvases with small pieces of medical tape (or, in one instance, with a red wax seal), the cut-outs, from afar, dissolve into abstract patterns and arabesques but, up close, they appear like incisions in the body, or even orifices. At times, however, the cut-outs transcend the physical and enter a cosmological realm, such as when the combination of cut-outs and stamped wax registers as both a geometric form and a comet.

Edita Schubert, Embedding, 1997, glass, polyester resin, wood, 35 × 40 cm. Courtesy: Galerie Molitor, Berlin; photograph: Marjorie Brunet Plaza

In the most recent artwork in the exhibition, a sculptural assemblage titled Embedding (1997), Schubert enacts upon her own image what the title of the sculptural assemblage conveys. The work consists of two sculptural groups, each featuring two pieces of wood connected at right angles, which partly jut out from the wall. Traces of circles and rectangles are drawn in white on the boards affixed to the wall; a white drawing at the base creates a surface for a huddle of petri dishes featuring images of the artist’s face suspended in resin. As with the other works on display, this sculpture emphasizes how, during her lifetime, Schubert was active in constructing her own artistic identity, whether poking her body parts through a canvas and photographing them or placing her image within vessels ordinarily used in a scientific laboratory. The show reveals the rippling connections Schubert’s work had to other artists active on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s and ’70s, from Lucio Fontana to Hannah Wilke. Part minimal, part body art, part feminist, Schubert may have contained her image within resin-filled petri dishes, but her art bursts out of such confines.

Edita Schubert’s ‘Self-Portrait Behind a Perforated Canvas’ is on view at Molitor, Berlin, until 31 August

Main image: Edita Schubert, Self-Portrait Behind a Perforated Canvas (detail), 1977, 17 photocopied photographs, 16.5 x 12 cm each. Courtesy: Galerie Molitor, Berlin; photograph: Marjorie Brunet Plaza

Talia Kwartler is a curator and art historian based in Berlin.