Critics’ Picks

Schädeldecke (wie ein Gebäude) (Cranium [as a Building]), 2007, pencil, ink, and tempera on paper, 21 5/8 x 19 1/2".


Walter Pichler

Contemporary Fine Arts Galerie (CFA)
Grolmanstrasse 32/33
November 10, 2007–January 12, 2008

On November 10, Contemporary Fine Arts opened its spacious new home on Kupfergraben, across from Berlin’s Museum Island, with a two-floor exhibition of work by Austrian artist Walter Pichler. The show is a rare glimpse at an artist who seldom sells or lends his work; the occasion is made more special by its nearly retrospective comprehensiveness. Pichler first came to international attention with his “Prototypes”—models for objects that were intended to be serially produced—exhibited at Documenta 4 in 1968. Made between 1962 and 1969, the “Prototypes” influenced the designs of architects like Coop Himmelblau and Haus-Rucker-Co. In 1975, works from this relatively early phase were presented in a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Pichler, working with architects Hans Hollein and Raimund Abraham, at this time also developed utopian spaces on the basis of delicately executed architectural renderings. In the CFA exhibition, titled “Es ist doch der Kopf” (“It Is the Head After All”), the human body—or rather the cranium—becomes the object meant to channel such utopian aspirations. In many of the drawings included here, the hollow cranium becomes a kind of tomb (a symbol of vanitas); in particular, Étienne-Louis Boullée’s Cenotaph for Newton, a monument marked by an enormous spherical planetarium, comes to mind. In the 1960s, the model for the “new” urban person could be found in industrially manufactured materials—a line of thinking Pichler analyzed critically and ironically at that time. One could say that the human body has now become yet another material to be refined, a fact that Pichler’s enigmatic new work registers in subtle but profound ways.