Raum annehmen: Aspekte österreichischer Skulptur 1950–1985

Galerie Grita Insam

It does make a certain amount of sense that one should give credit to exhibitions that present work of no exemplary value, but that articulate un certainties in doing so—which is to say, they do have merit as accurate assessments of the range of work being done. Shows such as these neither take us by surprise esthetically nor overwhelm us with significant new developments. Nevertheless, their categorizing schemes are necessarily jostled, and more openness than compact closure results-and that is worth something, too.

What this gallery presented under the title “Raum annehmen: Aspekte österreichischer Skulptur 1950–1985” (Space takes shape: aspects ofAustrian sculpture 1950–1985) was anything but an overview of sculpture in Austria in the past 35 years, that is, almost the entire duration of the Second Republic. Instead, its aim was to give us an up-to-date perspective based up on a very specific set of antecedents. The issue of national patterns of identity was excluded as far as possible in order rather generally to mark off the territory of possible sculpture today. with Austria serving, so to speak, as an example.

Therefore, the work not shown was equally as import ant as the work seen. Viewed historically, almost the whole time span was dominated by the highly concentrated, monumental stone sculpture of Fritz Wotruba (1907–1976), and much of what follows here must be understood as under this lone block. Also missing were any references to the Wiener Aktionismus—which in effect provided sculpture a tabula rasa on which to re define itself—or to Walter Pichler. Instead , the explicit counterpositions to Wotruba were represented. These included Oswald Oberhuber’s sculpture informel from the early ’50s; Roland Goeschl’s wood-beam figurations painted in high-gloss primary colors; and especially Bruno Giron coli’s scatterings of fetishistic objects, from the ’60s, which are diametrically opposed to Wotruba’s work.

More recently, two cont radictory trends have broken cover. First, the generation of artists who emerged in the 70s-represented by Peter Weibel, Valie Export, Werner Wuninger, and Bob Adrian-have deduced the impossibility of a stationary sculptural space from the mod el of the global electronic network. Second, a younger group of sculptors—Franz West, Thomas Stimm, Erwin Wurm, and Hans Kupelwieser, among others—have been inspired by the painting boom at the beginning of the ’80s to pre serve the more traditional modes of sculpture, too, even if most have been somewhat sidetracked into making objectlike, playful, obsessive forms.In the newest trend among the youngest (and those who have remain ed young), a kind of neo-Minimalism—seen in the work of Wolfgang Stengl, Heimo Zobernig, and Willi Kopf—has evolved, fusing the positions of the two generations in an odd way Most of these artists are students of the ’70s generation who have set theory aside to create a strange melange of monument and pure sign.

At any rate, the curators seemed to take the side of the older group of artists. The installation did not grant any of the works the contemplative isolation that sculpture must have to breathe; instead, it forced connections among them. In so doing it largely did justice to the less concentrated work of Gironcoli and Goeschl while undeniably undercutting everything that tended toward quiet autonomy And there was a greater emphasis on quantity, rather than quality, so the show at times degenerated into something resembling a sideshow booth at a fair.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.