Graz

Bruno Gironcoli

Neue Galerie Graz

Bruno Gironcoli’s new sculpture looks a little like a spaceship out of the Star Wars films. The powerful, pointed prow and broad-beamed stern endow this gigantic piece with a dynamism that suggests imminent departure. One seems almost to hear the revving engines, yet the entire piece is perfectly still,immovable. Entitled Väterliches–Mütterliches: Eine fiktive Modellvorstellung (Paternal–maternal: An invented model, 1972–86), it consists of various strange-looking objects and forms, mounted on a massive curved, multilevel iron platform that is subdivided by a longitudinal axis. These objects are made of wood, plaster, and polyester resin, but all differences of material are neutralized by a homogeneous coat of semigloss copper-colored paint, which gives the work as a whole a distinctive yet rather anonymous character.

Gironcoli did not exhibit his work at all for years, and there exists only one substantial catalogue, dating from 1977, of the 50-year-old artist’s work. That was just at the time when Gironcoli took over the sculpture classes at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna, succeeding Fritz Wotruba. Ever since then, the Akademie has been a kind of home for him, where his artistic work has found an adequate mode of existence—or, perhaps more accurately, a possible mode of survival. Only very recently has Gironcoli begun participating again in public exhibitions, but it is this show in Graz, where he exhibited works in tempera along with his monumental sculptural piece, that most clearly demonstrates his new attitude to public reception and publicity.

Gironcoli subtitled his new work “Eine fiktive Modellvorstellung” in order to emphasize the piece’s unfinished, unfinishable character. The beginnings of the sculpture date back to 1972, and he worked on it continuously right up to the time of the exhibition. On first seeing the work, what is immediately apparent is both its cumulative richness and its essentially clear and simple organization. For, as always in Gironcoli’s work, the thematic material is strictly reduced to a few cardinal points. The paternal realm, represented by a monumental, thronelike bed and phallic power symbols, confronts the maternal realm, with its baby carriage, madonna, spikes of wheat, and giant corkscrew, while at the prow, enveloped by organic forms punctuated here and there with sharp thorns, lies the child. Some parts of the piece are very objectlike; others adamantly maintain their amorphousness. This creates extreme tension between an “empathic” bodiliness and an “abstracting” distance. What is living and vulnerable to pain coexists with the inorganic and unfeeling, pairing the unequivocal with the ambiguous in an intimate way.

Sculpture itself takes on new dimensions here. Where Wotruba’s titanic pieces deliberately oppose the pressures of the everyday world, Gironcoli’s, in contrast, have always consciously assimilated the social dimension within themselves. Even in his Minimalist objects of the ’60s and his installations of the ’70s there was a clear connection to and incorporation of specifically modern modes of experience—such as the fetishization of consumer goods and our alienated relation to the world; our political impotence against violence, torture,and suffering; and the idolization of appropriated symbols, as by the Nazis.

The new work synthesizes these elements of fragmentation and concentration. It is a monument of becoming, of an unending search for the links that connect personal obsessions with the social world. In its tripartite father-mother-child structure, it reflects the traditional structure of the family. Using this as his starting point, Gironcoli attempts to give an objective, contemporary form to his private experiences and sexual fantasies revolving around the notion of “family” and, by so doing, to express some universal truths about the family in the modern industrial world. Gironcoli’s purely critical attitude toward modem forms of life in his work of the ’60s and ’70s has given way to a certain ambivalence here. As on a Baroque stage, the activation of the entire sensual potential of the work is catalyzed by a surprise attack on the visual sense, but also by a classical attention to form, beauty, expression, and intellectual allegory. This sculpture is one of those “bachelor machines” that spook about in the art of our century, but it has escaped the clutches of the autistic drive-mechanism and presents itself as a model for life, for the world, in its balance of late industrial-capitalist reality and a “science-fiction” vision of the future.

Helmut Draxler_

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.