Tobias Rehberger, born in 1966, studied in Frankfurt with Thomas Bayrle and Martin Kippenberger, who managed to rid him of any fanciful notions about the mystery of art. Rehberger's recent, truly prolific production offers just as little information about supposed artistic genius as does that of his teachers.
What is striking about his work in the fields of sculpture, painting and installation, are the references to existing realities in art, design and architecture. Such references are not mimetic in intent, nor are they concerned with the question of original versus. reproduction. Rehberger is heading towards a new definition of what is understood by artistic production. He is not an artist intent on his own particular mode of expression, but rather a person who, through his art, wants to understand more about the structures and relations in which he works. This can take place at a personal level, as in the installation Rehbergst (1994), in which he refers to his father's paintings and furniture. Or it can take place at the level of cultural critique, as in the Goldberg - Iceberg - Collection (1992), based on copies of African art. It can also occur at an art-historical level, as in the miniature models of the seats used in the first Dokumenta. Another way of clarifying this thematicisation of the distance between the artist and his subject, which is fundamental to Rehberger's work, is through the inclusion of other people's ideas and designs in the process of production. The Betten (Beds) installation from 1994 is a perfect example. The double beds were made by Rehberger from designs by his friends. His place in the work is that of initiator and executive craftsman.
His latest works follow this familiar concept, but with a new twist. The Frankfurt exhibition is called 'Fragments of their pleasant spaces (in my fashionable version)'. Rehberger asked some friends what things needed to be present in a space for them to enjoy being in it. Using this information, which didn't specify form, colour or materials, he constructed furniture and living accessories. On show are five realisations of different room ideas. In one of these 'spaces' stand two pedestals. One has a heavy board fastened to it - for chopping vegetables, for example. On the pedestal opposite stands a TV. This space, limited in area like all the others by its particular flooring, is called Cutting, preparing, without missing anything, and being happy about what comes next (1996). Another room has been given the title No need to fight about the channel. Together, leant back (1996). Here two comfortable-looking armchairs stand side by side. A pair of spheres the size of footballs hang from the ceiling, each containg a mini-monitor whose screen faces towards those who are seated.
Rehberger's objects are perfectly constructed, smooth, curved forms made from plastic and foam rubber in strong colours. They exude an atmosphere reminiscent of the 70s, but also verge on future-world fantasy - smart, innovative and desireable. Rehberger uses fashion and commerce as a counter-point in his works. Consciously separating the idea of an installation from its aesthetic, he surrenders the latter to the fast turnover of fashion and hype. It's easy to see that this furniture will soon be unbearably out of date, but, in the long term, it could resurface as period pieces or trashy cult objects.
The objects in Rehberger's Cologne exhibition 'Peuè Seè e Faàgck Sunday Paàe' have survived precisely this sort of process to emerge as witnesses of classical Modernism. In 1994, at the invitation of the Goethe Institute, Rehberger spent two weeks in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He took with him perspective drawings of chairs - all undisputed design classics - by Breuer, Aalto and Rietveld amongst others. With the help of Cameroon artist Pascal Martine Tayou, he found craftsmen who each made a chair from the drawings (which were neither drawn to scale nor exact in detail). These were then exhibited in Yaoundé and the drawings in Cologne.
Here Rehberger is playing with cultural conditioning. Something possessing the aura of western heritage in Europe, is simply a profane crafted object in other parts of the world. And this is not because its supposed status is not recognised, but because different measures and codes are used in different cultural traditions. Rehberger reduces his artistic practices to ideas and then relinquishes control of their practical execution. These are objects which refer the viewer to his or her own history more than they ask to be decoded as art.