Kathi Hofer’s show, entitled craftivism, was part of MAK’s NEW LOOK series. After Benjamin Hirte, Hofer was the second of four artists commissioned by the museum to engage with its collection and to reflect on the institution, as they put it: ‘as a site of present-day artistic production’. Hofer had access to the museum’s collection of contemporary art as well as craft items in ceramics, glass and metal and design objects and textiles.
Hofer’s intervention saw her arrange these objects in the museum’s small basement gallery, selecting them based on paired concepts like original and copy, production and reproduction, and applied and fine art. A vase designed by Franz von Zülow in 1934 for the Augarten porcelain factory in Vienna, for example, was placed beside six model vases from Japan’s Meiji era (1868–1912). These six objects, demonstrating steps of a production process based on the division of labour (modelling, colouring, glazing), were identified by the inventory number ‘Em 174/a-f’ from the collection’s enamels section. But not all of the objects in craftivism bore these cryptic combinations of letters and numbers that signalled museum ownership. The date given for Entwurf für ein Salzfass (Design for a Salt Cellar, 1545–71/2012), for example, clearly showed that this drawing cannot have been Hofer’s creation, though she seemed to be claiming at least some credit. Similarly the artist replaced the inventory code with the label ‘Kathi Hofer’ under a digital print reproduction of the Renaissance original by Benvenuto Cellini. The new work visibly became the artist’s own, as a new, different ‘original’.
In the choice of two objects from the museum’s contemporary art collection, craftivism took a denser turn. In 1994, Uli Aigner cut the identifiable outline of a human figure out of a sheet of particle board, titling it Heimo Zobernig after an almost identical work by the cited artist. In the show, this piece stands across from Ohne Titel (Untitled, 1988), Zobernig’s original. Reading the artist’s book created by Hofer to accompany the exhibition as a meticulous index of manufacturers, authors and objects, we learn that Zobernig delegated the production of his work to a member of the museum’s staff called Werner Gnadenberger, thus distancing himself as an artist from the manufacturing process.
At various points in the show, Hofer aimed to break down conventional concepts of authorship and the commodification of art. This aspect was taken to extremes when she re-enacted the strategies previously deployed by Zobernig. For TV-Bank and Kleines Regal (TV Stand and Small Bookshelf, both 2012) she asked the museum’s carpenter to make two pieces of furniture out of pinewood for subsequent use in her own apartment, thus evading the usual mechanisms of art’s commercial exploitation. After the show, the works became what they in fact always were: items for everyday use.
With laconic readymades from Hofer’s own life, including a dried bunch of flowers (Blumen, Flowers, 2009), or with unauthorized fakes of design classics that she bought on eBay and restored herself (as in 666 Superleggera, 2012), Hofer took MAK’s definition of itself as a ‘museum of art and everyday life’ seriously and literally, examining the interplay of institutional guidelines and contractual obligations. She dodged the usual imperatives of artistic production by using only existing material and drawing on the wealth of past creative acts, and by harnessing the working methods of the institution to her own ends. With craftivism, rather than allowing herself to be used as a mere supplier of ideas to reposition the museum under the conditions dictated, Hofer claimed her dues for the work commissioned by the museum.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell