The first works by Tobias Rehberger that made a lasting impression on me were a series of chairs the artist commissioned, from African carpenters. Clumsy copies of famous high European designs, they could be seen as a critique of old Western chauvinisms and as an amusing comment on the problems of translation between cultures. These Afro-European hybrids have provoked lively discussion wherever they’ve been shown, which begs a question: What is it about these objects that we find so amusing—the European pretensions they point up or the African “difference” they seem to reveal? To me, what makes them interesting is their very oddness. But the effectiveness of this simple—too simple?—gesture has to do with the way these crossbred objects make both cultures strange.
A close dialogue with architecture and design animates most of Rehberger’s work. And if this German artist is a bit of an amateur when it comes to design history, he certainly has a keen sense of ambience. His art always involves specific settings, and he pays as much attention to these cool atmoe pheres as he does to the objects themselves. Sometimes he simply turns the physical surroundings into art.
Based in Frankfurt and Berlin, Rehberger is constantly on the road. Luxembourg, Basel, Stockholm, Berlin—wherever I go, I seem to run into him, and he always seems to have just opened a new exhibition. When I recently met up with him in a Stockholm coffeehouse, we discussed the piece he presented last summer in Luxembourg, at Manifesta 2. This work epitomizes much of what characterizes his projects: a short-circuiting of high modernist aesthetics through the incorporation of something outside its precincts. In this case, it was the noble art of cultivating salad.

A guy wants a classic suit and goes out to get one. Maybe he thinks he’s found the ideal cut. But years later he takes another look at his sample of eternal beauty and the whole thing seems grotesque. Maybe the lapels are too wide, or the color seems off. My work deals with these mechanisms. What at one time is seen as a classic form—something neutral or even timeless—is a construction. I’m interested in this whole process. I want to look at the context in which aesthetic values arise.

Things can often be seen from more than one vantage, and I like to retain those possibilities. My Luxembourg project, situated just outside the casino, is really a piece about perspectives. It’s a kind of flower bed or vegetable garden, set on a terrace overlooking a beautiful landscape. Yet the view has been blocked; now, thanks to my intervention, if you sit down on the bench, you’re looking in

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