Ian Anüll

Ian Anüll’s exhibitions always turn out to be highly ambivalent installations of work. The artist operates largely with found items, both material and spiritual; he undermines their meaning, allows them to function on different levels according to the given context. Consider Trademark, 1988, a small sculpture painted red and mounted on the wall like a console, on the front of which is placed a big, white, circled R (the international symbol of a registered trademark). This piece becomes a kind of thematic leitmotif, ironically alienating all the works in the show. On the one hand, it sovereignly maintains itself as a clearly articulated spatial body, à la Minimalist art. But beyond that, it also achieves a semantic dimension. Not only does the trademark identify the sculpture as an industrial product and trade-registered item, but the potential function of the pedestal elevates any possible object to the status of artwork. Trademark points directly to the conceptual background of Anüll’s work: namely, an analytical reflection on the internationally intertwining economic systems and their manifestation in products that, as commodities or trade-registered items, both whet and satiate consumer appetite.

Along with Trademark, the entrance floor of the gallery contained two other works. Hanging opposite each other and subtly attuned to one another, they seemed at first to have completely different origins. Yet they play the same game, albeit with diverse premises. Katz und Maus (Cat and mouse, 1988) alludes to a game played by highly unequal players, with the loser determined in advance. It is visually expressed in three paintings using the letter M, which is the symbol used by one of the largest Swiss supermarket chains. The third painting in the group has the unusual superlative 3M: the internal form of the 3 contains the transverse drawing of the head of a mouse, and the M contains the head of a cat perking up its ears.

While the relationship between parts is fairly clear in this case, it is somewhat more complex in the adjoining piece W.S., 1988. This was one of the five extremely diverse portraits in this exhibition that showed the same man, the famous Swiss “escape artist” Walter Stürm. As a victim of the system, he will always be the loser, yet his cat-and-mouse game with the authorities reveals that he has seen through the rules. The road to change leads through each individual’s active understanding—that may be the statement made by the mirror integrated in the work.

These anecdotal backgrounds merely show how densely and concretely Anüll approaches his pictorial construction. However, the background is not necessarily vital to grasping a painting’s message; the latter is made comprehensible in more general terms by the works’ formal interplay. Pioneer, 1988, for example, relates to Als die Erde noch flach war (When the earth was still flat, 1988), a circular blue and black disk mounted horizontally on a round metal stand. Through a process of pictorial and linguistic associations, the nearby trade-registered item is transferred to a realm of cosmic meaning. The media image of outer space, the trivialized grandeur of the universe, is reduced to the level of a consumable product. In Eclipses, 1988, for instance, a globe (marked with holes that evoke craft landings) lies, like a ball of earthly vanity, in a champagne cooler. Anüll knows how to turn things into their opposites, without eliminating their original meanings, and he does so with cunning and wit. The result is a new weighting of things and a transmutation of values.

Max Wechsler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.