Herbert Brandl

Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli

It took more than two decades after the Nazi annexation in 1938 before Austria could again become an authentic presence on the international art scene. When this occurred, first with the Viennese Aktionismus movement and then with the radical architecture of Hans Hollein, that presence took on a startling form The contradictions within the troubled political, social, and cultural history of Austria led to a kind of art in which individual thematic components emerged in naked or raw form, devoid of stylistic embellishments but full of symbolic weight.

In the mid ’70s ties were renewed (not that they had ever been completely broken) with the most glorious period of the arts in Vienna, that of the Secession. Such young painters as Siegfried Anzinger, Hubert Schmalix, Gunter Damisch, Alois Mosbacher, Herbert Brandl, and Otto Zitko, encouraged by the Italians of the transavangardia to the south and by the “new German painters” to the north, adapted that movement to an even more “specific” vision, one that is more intimate and unquestionably more vernacular. Above all, they renounced the idea of totality found in the work of Austrian artists from Gustav Klimt to Hermann Nitsch.

Herbert Brandl’s most recent works still relate to the Secession. They are marked both by the privilege accorded to the paintings’ surfaces, and the presence of that “anxious insecurity” that Otto Wagner attributed to the contact between a still aristocratic, hierarchical society and the modern world, and which today is translated into the relationship between the individual and technology Brandl presents this insecurity through a private language of messages that speaks of nightmare fantasies, and an anxiety that can be relieved only through contemplation of the very objects that for the artist embody both mystery and beauty The works are focused on the naked transmutation of forms or the evocation of such extreme dualities as eros/thanatos, finite/infinite, and material/spiritual.

The work shown here was dominated by a naturalistic theme. Bejeweled landscapes, as byzantine in their preciousness as those of Klimt, crumble beneath an accumulation of chromatic material and the frenzy of the painterly gesture. Brandl’s dense visual tempests, similar to those in Oskar Kokoschka’s work, are dulled by a heavy patina. Yet in the small drawings the meaning is lightly, and no less surprisingly, veiled. Brandl’s late-Romantic Post-Modern stance does not change, but borrowings from the past-from Vincent van Gogh (in the use of certain low horizons) or from Alfred Kubin (in certain images of animals)—or a consonance with the work of more recent artists, such as Nicola de Maria and Mimmo Paladino, are manifest in forms not usually seen in his paintings. These forms are like notes jotted down on a journey, fragile and essentially banal but with a true immediacy, like a hint of happiness. In these small daytime phantasms generated by apprehension, the feeling of panic that characterizes all of Brandl’s work is externalized and declared for what it is: an alibi of nothingness.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.