Critics’ Picks

View of “Sofie Thorsen,” 2013.

View of “Sofie Thorsen,” 2013.


Sofie Thorsen

Kunstforum Wien
Freyung 8
May 23–July 14, 2013

The light and playful way children experience the world is especially in evidence when they interact with the objects in their immediate environment—experimenting with forms and materials, continually shaping them into new creations and figures of thought. The exhibition of Danish artist Sofie Thorsen, who lives in Vienna, takes as its point of departure the phenomenon of so-called play sculptures, whose pipes, caves, platforms, ladders, peepholes, and hiding places found their way into the destroyed cities of postwar Europe and provided much-needed free spaces—spaces for the imagination—for moments of respite from the sadness of everyday life. These sculptural facilities offered a functional and interpretive flexibility at several different intersections: the border between concrete architecture and utopia, between design and artistic invention, and not least the fine line between art and life.

In the exhibition space, Thorsen displays an abstracted play sculpture (based on several years of research she carried out across Europe) that, because of its fragility, cannot be used. The construction makes reference, on the one hand, to renowned international architects, designers, and artists—such as Aldo van Eyck, Isamu Noguchi, and Egon Møller-Nielsen—and, on the other, to their local counterparts, like Josef Seebacher-Konzut, as well as to the conceptual designers of the anonymous playground sculptures that emerged in Vienna during reconstruction after World War II and that have since been forgotten. Adding structure to the exhibition space is a system of bent steel pipes that sketches a three-dimensional landscape, which seems to constantly reconfigure itself depending upon the position of its observers. Lemon yellows, fire-truck reds, and muted blues, added with a delicate, painterly hand, accent the sculptures. A sheet of paper with massively enlarged and cropped archival photographs depict the original spatial and social context of the play sculptures in a lively fashion, much as the depicted equipment was once used by children. The historical documents admittedly hide more than they show, but it’s precisely the power of imagination—piqued by empty spaces—that allows the artist to succeed not only in breathing life into her art, but also in revitalizing a forgotten discourse on modern city planning that is more topical today than ever. Despite the weightiness of the subject matter, the exhibition remains ludic and lighthearted.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.