Critics’ Picks

View of Hans Schabus, “Verlangen und Begehren” (Longing and Desire), 2008. From left: Echo; Up Side Down on Knees and Nose; Against the Wall, all 2008.

Vienna

Hans Schabus

Kerstin Engholm Gallery
Schleifmühlgasse 3
September 5–November 4

How does an artist disappoint the public? This question underlies Hans Schabus’s latest exhibition, which may appear an act of deliberate provocation directed at the Austrian artist’s devotees. Rather than his typically monumental, uncanny interventions that dislocate his spectators’ imaginations, a few puzzling small objects confront viewers, undermining the standard perceptions of Schabus’s practice.

Übrig geblieben (Welt) (Leftovers [World]; all works 2008), a wall piece consisting of six black containers holding stamps placed with their back sides to the viewer, evokes concealment, incompleteness, and an autistic passion for collecting. Other remnants on view include a stool made of tree branches, a yellow rubber band, and a plastic bin, in Morgen wird wie Heute sein (Tomorrow Will Be like Today); a found window, its pane shattered as if someone broke into—or escaped from—the gallery, in Against the Wall; and a wooden door bent into a zigzag on the floor, anthropomorphized by its title: Up Side Down—On Knees and Nose. These works, which recall everyday thresholds between indoor and outdoor space, highlight a more classical aspect of Schabus’s investigations, exploring not only the formal language of sculpture and the properties of balance and volume but also both concrete and intangible materiality. For instance, the artist refers to acoustics in Echo, an aluminum sign that, like a cookie cutter, outlines the work’s title in cursive lettering. Paradoxically, the smallest piece in the show attracts the most attention: Ich weiss mir keinen Helfer (I Know No Aid for Me) is a tiny black plaque that reads 572 KG OF AIR. The work reinforces the notion of the gallery as a vacuum, referencing the German inventor Otto von Guericke’s discovery that air has weight that prevents it from escaping beyond Earth’s exosphere. Five hundred and seventy-two kilograms is in fact the estimated weight of the air that fills the gallery. When we strive to build closed rooms to protect ourselves, doors and windows become the only means of entry for intruders and other sources of peril. Schabus contrasts our fear of these outside threats—and our imprecise defenses against them—with our inability to control air: the one thing that can seep through any openings in the barriers we construct.