BY Matthias Duisini in Reviews | 09 SEP 01
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Issue 61

Objects: Sculpture in Austria after 1945

BY Matthias Duisini in Reviews | 09 SEP 01

Gustinus Ambrosi's list of commissions for solemn busts of prominent figures included Stefan Zweig through Friedrich Nietzsche to Benito Mussolini. The post-war Austrian state honoured Ambrosi with his own huge studio, and later museum: the Baroque Augarten. It is now an exhibition hall for the contemporary art department of the Austrian Gallery in the Upper Belvedere (another Baroque location). Its inaugural show: 'Objekte: Skulptur in Österreich nach '45' (Objects, Sculpture in Austria after 1945), explored the mixed reception of international Modernism and its aftermath in Austria.

Fortunately, the result was not simply a display of 'edifying' material, chronologically arranged and claiming to be exhaustive. Rather, curator Thomas Trummer cast light upon the way new media and conceptual frameworks have influenced sculpture, but he did so in a way that implied a criticism of the chauvinistic self-assurance of the hammer-and-chisel school of sculpture.

Four artists - Marcus Geiger, Marko Lulic, Florian Pumhösl and Heimo Zobernig - were commissioned as assistant curators. Asked to contextualize their respective choices of work, they inevitably played with the meaning of their own. This approach to remixing history served Pumhösl well - for some time he has been examining the ways in which Modernist exhibition design has produced meaning. The title of his section, 'King Oedipus', ironically referred to a stage design by the hero of Austrian post-War sculpture, Fritz Wotruba. A bronze model of the stage set rests in the midst of Pumhösl's own filigree architectural structure made of metallic poles - both architectural model and display fitting. In order to highlight the dialectic of project and projection, a visionary model of a city by Hans Hollein from 1963 rested on the floor module of one of the cuboids. The leaps between sculpture as ashtray, fountain, monument, museum building, or city planning model are ultimately imaginary ones. In Pumhösl's section there were several attempts to question how space is mentally ordered. Dorit Margreiter's My Bedroom in Prague (1993) looks less like a wooden model of a bedsit than a spaceship lock, as if the Modernist idealism of transparent architecture was blinded by the light of feminist critique of the 1960s and 70s. Representative of this generation and looking a little bit lost was ValieExport's small-scale model of a giant Sculpture in Space (1974), featuring the fingertips of a female hand pierced with nails.

For his contribution Lulic concentrated upon the national art history of post-War Yugoslavia. Unlike the restrained reception of Modernism in Austria, which endeavoured to compensate for the 'loss of the centre' with archaic abstraction, Marshal Tito presented Modernism in design, art and architecture as if it were a master plan for symbolically decorating and equipping the nation. In contrast, Geiger referred to his own generation, building a small-scale version of one of Zobernig's works from the Wiener Secession - partition walls set up to form the initials H.Z.

Zobernig's own 'Pipe' section included another dominant sculptor and teacher in Austrian post-War art history, Joannis Avramidis. The abstract, pipe-shaped stylization of the human body in his Group of Three Figures (1961) lost its human focus against Peter Kogler's wallpaper of digitally generated pipe-like structures. Zobernig himself contributed with a video projection of him covering his body with a patterned network of strips of foil. Employing the blue-screen technique of 1970s TV technology, the background seems to invade his body like a synthetic virus. However, this juxtaposition of Avramidis' sculpture with its seeming subversion made it look rather more than less interesting. It was to the show's credit that the invited artists did not attack their predecessors with 'j'accuse' postures, but instead attempted to expose their forgotten, or as yet undiscovered, qualities.