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Oswald Oberhuber. Photo © Rudi Molacek. Courtesy KOW, Berlin.
Oswald Oberhuber. Photo © Rudi Molacek. Courtesy KOW, Berlin.

Oswald Oberhuber (1931–2020)

Austrian artist, critic, educator, and gallerist Oswald Oberhuber, whose ever-evolving practice was guided by his principle of permanent change, has died. A longtime teacher, exhibition organizer, and rector at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Oberhuber was also the father of Nikolaus and Raphael Oberhuber, directors of Berlin’s KOW gallery.

Born in 1931 in South Tyrol, Italy, Oberhuber moved to Innsbruck, Austria, in 1940. By the end of the decade he began making his plaster and bronze “sculpture informel”—his three-dimensional interpretation of the thickly impastoed postwar painting style of artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Willem de Kooning. In 1956, inspired by Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, Oberhuber arrived at his “Principle of Permanent Change in Art,” with the goal of evading artistic categorization. “People shouldn’t develop a style; really, every image should be new,” he once said. “At some point, you get into a routine and know how things will turn out. As soon as I feel like that, I’m bored.”

The next decades saw Oberhuber turn variously to Conceptualism, realism, Pop-inflected paintings, assemblage and collage, object art, political posters, and exhibition design. In the January 1989 issue of Artforum, Helmut Draxler wrote of Oberhuber’s 1988 retrospective at Vienna’s Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts: “One stylistic attitude after another reveals merely a single facet of an individual identity that never loses its fragmentary and ultimately inconclusive character, even in the totality of the exhibition. . . . His refusal to form any personal style whatsoever combined here to produce an experience of intense flux.”

Oberhuber represented Austria at the Venice Biennale in 1972 and took part in Documenta 6 (1977), Documenta 7 (1982), and the São Paulo Bienal (1983). Solo shows of his work have been staged at SMAK, Ghent (1987); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Bozen (1988); Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao (1992); Secession, Vienna (2006); and 21er Haus Vienna (2016).