Discrepancies between claim and reality are often a problem in art as in the exhibition 678 that extended over the sixth, seventh and eighth floors at MUMOK. Viennese artist Florian Pumhösl and curator Matthias Michalka formulated their claim in a joint text for the folder accompanying the show: Pumhösl relates the abstract formal vocabulary of Modernism to political events or social issues and confronts it with the spatial conditions of the exhibition space.
On Level 6, Pumhösl sought to substantiate this claim by showing Diminution (2011), a cycle of 48 abstract, extremely reduced reverse glass paintings. In one picture, a straight line intersects with a curve in its lower third section. In the next, the top end of another straight vertical line meets a shorter line at an angle. The next is crossed by a diagonal line from top right to bottom left. And so on. This visually not unattractive series of pictures, the folder explains, is about demonstrating the possibilities of abstraction in portraiture. But an abstract line or curve in relation to an otherwise empty pictorial space amounts to a radicalization of abstract expression to the point where it is emptied of meaning, almost becoming a parody of itself. It does not constitute a serious engagement with the portrait genre. The promised link to social issues is also nowhere to be seen. Instead, for all the mastery with which it is deployed, the artists vocabulary of forms goes nowhere, verging on the purely decorative.
On Level 7, besides the film installation Expressiver Rhythmus (Expressive Rhythm, 2010/11), visitors saw the abstract animated film Tract (2011), a monochrome green square on which white lines move in different ways, converging or running parallel to each other. In some cases, these minimalist dances are reminiscent of early video games; in others, they (rather superficially) recall the abstract formal vocabulary of Modernism. Once again, however, there is no sign of the political events mentioned by Pumhösl himself. And as with Diminution, no real link is made to the exhibition space. Or is projecting something onto the wall enough to make it a component of the space, thus reflecting on that space? Here, too, the aesthetic strategies referred to are revealed as purely rhetorical, an unsubstantiated claim.
Which leaves Level 8, where the artist, in collaboration with Michalka, staged an extended selection of classical Modernist works from the museums collection under the title Abstrakter Raum (Abstract Space). This presentation of the historical avant-garde is interesting, for sure, but in view of the lack of politics in Pumhösls own work, the intended link to the other two levels (a fallacy suggested by the shows title) is highly pretentious, even annoyingly so.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell