BY Jörg Heiser in Reviews | 20 MAY 12
Featured in
Issue 5

Gerwald Rockenschaub

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

BY Jörg Heiser in Reviews | 20 MAY 12

Gerwald Rockenschaub, Embrace Romance Remodeled, 2006/2012

They looked like a set of playing cards for giant babies. Ten rectangular MDF boards, larger than tabletops, were spread around the space, painted ten different colours (yellow, green, dusty pink, orange, powder blue, lavender, red, black, bright pink and terracottaI and hung in two horizontal rows. Their edges touched at irregular, seemingly random intervals, as if the boards of the upper row were balancing loosely on the bottom row, and as if they might come crashing down at any moment. Seven lay flat against the wall, while three in the bottom row cut diagonally across the corners of the exhibition space, as if constrained by the architecture, and became free-standing objects.

Gerwald Rockenschaub’s Embrace Romance Remodeled (2006/12) – a different version was shown in Paris in 2006 – was installed in the large former-warehouse branch of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg’s industrial zone. At first glance, the work seemed lightweight, as if it had been designed quickly on the computer (which perhaps it was). It appeared not to obey any strict mathematical laws, contrary to what we have come to expect from both Modernist architecture and serial Minimal art. Nonetheless, some rules did seem to apply: in the way the green board rested on the dusty pink one, for example, determined by the need for the former to lie flush with the edge of the door; or in the way some boards barely touched at just one corner. This created an impression of structural casualness at odds with the visible heaviness of the boards – a modular architecture of colour fields that nestled into the space like a flexible paper construction. As the title suggests, the work is a variable romantic embrace of the volume of the white cube, ultimately closer in spirit to the early modular, three-dimensional colour-field painting of Hélio Oiticica than to the almost monastic rigour of Piet Mondrian’s Salon de Madame B. à Dresden (1926).

Rockenschaub has made engaging with the exhibition space a genuine part of his work since his 1989 show at Galerie Paul Maenz in Cologne, where he mounted 36 sheets of transparent acrylic glass flush with the wall, thus contrasting his previous phase as a Neo-Geo painter with an emptying of the image which also referred to the architectural principle of cladding. In his show of mainly small-format works a few months earlier at Villa Kast (Ropac’s main Salzburg gallery), this interrupting or underlining of given architectural choreographies was not immediately apparent. What one saw was literally eye candy: small, pictogram-like, wall-mounted works made of painted MDF with rounded corners (Pralinen, Pralines, 2011), which recalled petits fours; similarly proportioned works in Plexiglas, framed in oiled oak (Intarsien, Inlays, 2011); and other untitled objects from the artist’s seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of forms: dots, clouds, planets, bottles, boxes, empty frames.

But another untitled object (2011) did engage with its surroundings: a black Plexiglas box on a white plinth at eye level, hollow and mirrored inside, acted like a kaleidoscope, directing the viewer’s gaze towards the park outside the window and towards the exhibition situation itself. This object recalled Rockenschaub’s 1994 project at Secession in Vienna where he used a row of chairs in front of a window to focus attention on the building site opposite. A related approach can be seen in his current project at Secession, where his Plattform (Platform, 2012) offers an entirely new view of Gustav Klimt’s Beethovenfries (Beethoven Frieze, 1902): thanks to the bright yellow architectural installation, which creates a vantage point several metres above floor level, visitors can now view the main parts of the frieze eye-to-eye. Something similar happened with Embrace Romance Remodeled: Rockenschaub’s art directs the viewer’s gaze away from itself towards a specific (often architectural) function, at the same time playfully drawing attention to its own autonomy.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Jörg Heiser is director of the Institute for Art in Context at the University of the Arts, Berlin, Germany.