Achim Hochdörfer

  • Christopher Wool

    THE HOME PAGE of Christopher Wool’s website greets visitors, somewhat cryptically, with a black-and-white photograph of a discarded office chair on a dilapidated sidewalk. Taken with a flash at night on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the photograph has a dramatic immediacy, but seems more than a straightforward image of urban decay. With its atmosphere of isolation and estrangement and its invocation of such classic tropes as the destruction of public space and the loss of interiority, it appears to represent a kind of primal scene of expressionist art. Listing languidly on a broken caster, the

  • Wade Guyton

    THE LOGIC OF THE MODERN ERA demands revolutions: decisive ruptures that enable sweeping paradigm shifts and the introduction of new ways of seeing. In hindsight, such ruptures can often be seen as the outcome of periods of transition, those interregnums that are not dominated by a prevailing narrative and thus allow for an atmosphere of indeterminacy and openness, in which antithetical motives and genealogies can suddenly and surprisingly be connected with one another. Jasper Johns, for example, was buoyed by such a historical constellation: The speed with which his institutional breakthrough

  • Leo Steinberg

    Leo Steinberg was a beacon of twentieth-century art criticism. Whether in his trailblazing interpretations of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns, his revelatory understanding of Monet’s late work, or his contributions to Renaissance art history, Steinberg’s enduring faith that “the eye is a part of the mind” freed his thought and writing from the orthodoxies of the age. In the years before his death this past March, Steinberg gave his last interviews to curator ACHIM HOCHDÖRFER, who here presents their wide-ranging conversations for the first time.

    WHEN I VISITED

  • 1000 WORDS: HEIMO ZOBERNIG

    SINCE THE LATE 1970S, Heimo Zobernig has played a multilayered game, using a system of his own devising to pit various historical references, media, and artmaking strategies against one another. Deploying a reduced formal language based on basic geometric shapes, simple materials, furniture, and Helvetica typefaces, Zobernig explores art’s relationships to design, architecture, theater, and the public sphere. At first glance, the objects in his exhibitions can seem like laboratory apparatuses primed for an experiment, but the function of the individual elements is never entirely unambiguous.

  • R.H. Quaytman: Index, Chapter 20

    The book as a metaphor for the “legibility of the world”: Per Hans Blumenberg’s 1981 study, the idea is both ancient and contemporary. For R. H. Quaytman, it offers a framework through which to systematize the discourse of modern painting in all its complexity and contradictions.

    The book as a metaphor for the “legibility of the world”: Per Hans Blumenberg’s 1981 study, the idea is both ancient and contemporary. For R. H. Quaytman, it offers a framework through which to systematize the discourse of modern painting in all its complexity and contradictions. Since 2001, the artist has been dividing her work into discrete, site-specific groups she calls chapters. All nineteen are being brought together for the first time, in an actual book and an exhibition. For the latter, “Index, Chapter 20,” Quaytman will select two images from each group, making

  • A HIDDEN RESERVE: PAINTING FROM 1958 TO 1965

    IN THE LATE 1950s, painting celebrated some of the greatest triumphs in its history, grandly ordained as a universal language of subjective and historical experience in major shows and touring exhibitions. But only a short while later, its very right to exist was fundamentally questioned. Already substantially weakened by the rise of Happenings and Pop art, painting was shoved aside by art critics during the embattled ascendancy of Minimalism in the mid-’60s. Since then, painters and their champions alike have tirelessly pondered the reasons for their chosen medium’s downfall, its abandonment

  • 1000 WORDS: MARIA LASSNIG

    THE ART-HISTORICAL CATEGORY of “late work,” which emerged around the end of the eighteenth century, has itself begun to show signs of age. Strictly speaking, the kind of major, self-contained phase of artistic production defined by the term is carried out late in life by an exceptional figure who has freed him- or herself from all historical constraints and confronted the absolute head-on. Such a formulation was held to be true by intellectuals as recent as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who wrote at the beginning of their final book, What Is Philosophy? (1991): “There are times when old age produces not eternal youth but a sovereign freedom, a pure necessity in which one enjoys a moment of grace between life and death, and in which all the parts of the machine come together to send into the future a beam that cuts across all ages.” With the speed of artistic developments during the twentieth century and after, however, it has become increasingly difficult for artists to keep up with the changes in style demanded by the market. In turn, there is hardly anybody whose early work is not held up against his or her late work as a sign of the failure to develop over the decades and assert his or her relevance anew in changing contexts. And yet such ongoing pertinence is precisely what eighty-eight-year-old painter Maria Lassnig has sustained throughout her life—as is made clear once more in her most recent survey exhibition, currently at the Serpentine Gallery in London. The show, which remains on view through June 8, puts into service vibrant colors, multilayered emotional effects, and a striking intensity to condense more than a half century’s experience of painting and theory into roughly thirty canvases, most of them produced during the past three years.
     
    Following her education at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts between 1941 and 1944, Lassnig played a key role in the emergence of art informel in Austria, and in the early 1950s she exhibited in Vienna with abstract painters such as Arnulf Rainer and Josef Mikl. Around this time, Lassnig became interested in the linguistic games and theories of the Wiener Gruppe, a literary circle centered on Oswald Wiener, H. C. Artmann, Gerhard Rühm, and Friedrich Achleitner; and she met André Breton and Paul Celan on trips to Paris. She moved to the French capital in 1961, but by the decade’s end she was living in New York, where she remained until 1980, getting to know Dan Graham, Vito Acconci, and others. Matching her circuitous geographic path is an artistic one, and it now seems clear that Lassnig’s great historical achievement is to have marked out a passage for postwar painting from the self-referential art informel of the ’50s to the phenomenological, psychoanalytic, and feminist discourses of the ’60s and ’70s.
     
    Indeed, in light of her oft-cited notion of “body-awareness painting,” one recalls that the theories of Merleau-Ponty and Lacan were put to the test in the context of painting long before they became important in discussions of Minimalist sculpture as well as photography and film theory. The preoccupation with sensations and emotions, and the associated idea of the artist as seismograph of his or her inner life, does not necessarily exhaust itself in empty formalism and apolitical remove from the world. On the contrary: “The body,” as Merleau-Ponty puts it, “is that strange object which uses its own parts as a general system of symbols for the world, and through which we can consequently ‘be at home in’ that world, ‘understand’ it and find significance in it.” In this sense, Lassnig’s painting might be described as an ambitious attempt to assert the self and in so doing to present what Merleau-Ponty calls “the whole system of experience”—a synthesizing and comprehensive perception of “world, own body and empirical self.” This insight also illuminates the sociopolitical aspects of Lassnig’s painting: She did not take part in the feminist movement of the ’70s and has always denied that her art has any gender- specific intention, but she is nevertheless unsparingly candid in her treatment of female identity—for example, in her pictures of an imaginary “happy family,” in which the pressure that comes from socially sanctioned role models is dramatically expressed.
     
    Although Lassnig represented Austria (with Valie Export) at the Thirty-ninth Venice Biennale in 1980 and was included in Documenta 7 in 1982, international recognition has been slow in coming. Her project, with its analytic rigor and integrity, is clearly fundamentally removed from the much-hyped neo-expressionist painting of the early ’80s and its sweeping rhetorical gestures. But this is perhaps also why Lassnig’s pictures seem so fresh: Like the work of artists such as Joan Snyder, Amy Sillman, and Josh Smith, they open up the possibility of an art that is intimately involved with expressionistic and process-oriented painting but manages to avoid getting stuck in endgame scenarios, perpetual mourning, or cynical poses.
     
    Achim Hochdörfer

    MARIA LASSNIG

    OVER THE YEARS, I have been involved with a lot of isms. They don’t simply disappear, of course, but are somehow still present even in my most recent pictures. I am, so to speak, eclectic within my own oeuvre, selecting things from the various isms that I mix into something new. I have been working long enough to establish my own tradition, from realism through Surrealism, art informel, automatism, and I don’t know how many other isms. I had to go through all of that—just imagine that I knew nothing about any of these movements when I studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Art at

  • the Generali Foundation

    AT A SEPTEMBER 2007 press conference announcing the merger of the Generali Foundation and the Bawag Foundation, representatives of the two Vienna art institutions stood smiling beneath the neon script of Cerith Wyn Evans’s 2003 sculpture Scenes from a Marriage—apparently unaware that the piece alludes to Ingmar Bergman’s oppressive portrait of a union in crisis. This particular art-world betrothal should perhaps not have been a surprise, since the corporations that respectively own and fund the foundations had themselves merged earlier in the year, when financial-services conglomerate