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Walter Pichler

Museum der Moderne Salzburg | Mönchsberg
Mönchsberg 32
November 26–June 5

View of “Walter Pichler: Radical: Architecture & Prototypes,” 2016.

This retrospective of Walter Pichler’s work makes it clear that he remains profoundly influential, both in his native Austria and beyond. Simultaneously working in sculpture, architecture, graphic design, furniture, industrial design, drawing, and occasionally writing, he liberally blurred the disciplinary boundaries between these fields and heralded an expanded notion of what an artist might be.

Take, for instance, Table for Oswald and Ingrid (Prototype 8), 1967. It is purportedly a dining table for two, with inflatable legs and a plastic top with indentations that are meant to function as plates. Embossed with the names of its prospective users—the jazz musician and writer Oswald Wiener and his wife, Ingrid Schuppan-Wiener, whose home was a gathering place for the Viennese avant-garde in the 1960s—it is hilarious as a piece of furniture, but its idiosyncratic form clearly marks it as sculpture. This piece questions both the autonomy of art objects and the “form follows function” philosophy of modernist design while acknowledging the social context of its presentation. Moreover, Pichler’s use of inflatable PVC and other then-new materials further muddied the distinction between design and sculpture.

The artist, in dialogue with interlocutors including architect Hans Hollein, aimed to integrate art into everyday life. With works such as Dormitory, 1968, consisting of four beds (one lost) with sculptural forms, radios, or photographs embedded in each mattress, he expanded the contexts available for artistic endeavors. The strength of this exhibition ultimately lies in the fact that it offers aesthetic strategies that are still highly effective at situating art outside its isolation in order to both trouble and enrich it.

Yuki Higashino