Critics’ Picks

Thea Moeller, Up from the Ground, 2020, steel, 111 x 4 x 6".

Thea Moeller, Up from the Ground, 2020, steel, 111 x 4 x 6".

Vienna

Thea Moeller

Wonnerth Dejaco Gallery
Ballgasse 6
February 10–March 20, 2021

“Beach Road Scissors” at Wonnerth Dejaco, the latest addition to Vienna’s gallery scene, features eleven sculptures by German artist Thea Moeller, who utilizes prefabricated steel elements typically used in construction. Made from iron, steel’s reputation has capitalized in art and popular culture alike on its toughness and durability (think: the adamantine majesty of a Richard Serra installation, or Balls of Steel). Moeller’s practice reveals this as a misconception, embracing the astonishing malleability of this supposedly unwavering material to produce nuanced, playful forms freed from monumentalizing roles.

Take, for instance, Up from the Ground, 2020, for which Moeller first incised and subsequently bent two L-sections into oblong loops, intertwined at their respective halves. Without heating the metal or applying major cutting tools, Moeller works the steel into counterintuitive shapes. The strong focus on the materials, their properties, and how the artist manipulated them may convey the impression that rendering the work’s process of formation is their principal semantic charge. In the absence of an external context, all the tiny dents, cracks, smears, and scratches become all the more significant, verging on fetishization. But the artist stops short of this by engaging in a game of pretend that challenges the viewer to recognize the objects as representing something they are not. For the pieces Neon 1 and Neon 2, both 2019, two steel sculptures posing as neon tubes, the lacquered steel was welded for pictorial effect, mimicking the vaporized cathode material that gives neon tubes their characteristic black ends. By means of such details, Moeller ventures from the crudeness of her chosen materials into the playfulness that simultaneously animates and veils her tense, elegantly wrought sculptures.