Franz Graf

Galerie Nachst St. Stephan

Two years ago, in his last solo exhibition, Franz Graf showed work in only three rooms of this gallery; each room contained one work, hung at the precise center of the wall. Now, in the same gallery, at exactly the same places, Graf has exhibited three new works with exactly the same theme: variations on the circle. Yet the difference in the two artistic conceptions of this theme could hardly be greater. The pieces shown in 1986 were canvases worked in black india ink. The strongly centralized images radiated in jagged or wavy lines; in some cases, the dark/light contrast between the lines and the white pigment was sharp enough to produce optical illusions. Here Graf deleted the centers of the works systematically. Graphite pencil drawings on transparent paper formed tight, objectlike crisscrosses with their glazes, and cubic steel bodies were marked by manifold ridges.

In the first room (all works Untitled, 1988), the row of drawings—simple disks—formed a frame for an 18-part, hollow steel skeleton, which was attached directly to the wall. In the third room, the drawings formed three nine-part pictorial fields in which the middle field, always missing, was replaced by a steel body. The pictorial center looked almost punched out: the steel body seemed to slice out the ornamental shapes on the paper—concentric circles made up of small disks or star-shaped constructions.

In the second room, there were no steel bodies. There was only a 24-part series of drawings on the theme of the circle. Graf’s inspirations here ran the range from Marcel Duchamp to Op art. At first, the disks, loops, and strips seemed to refer to the reciprocal exchange of figure and ground, but the light parts were worn and approached the tonal quality of paper. In this way, the light/dark contrasts of the earlier works were replaced by a flowing albeit slightly systematized gray-on-gray. The initial effect of the ornamental shapes was almost mechanical, as if the shapes were saw blades, yet seen closely, they revealed many small but calculated irregularities.

In 1986, Graf’s exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue with photocollages that emphasized the artist’s spatial intentions, the intersections of various space segments. Here, the interlocking of figure and ground, emptiness and body, surface and space, had become the real theme. The almost manic concentration of the earlier images was forfeited, giving way to a clearer and more aloof perspective.

There were no autonomous drawings here. Together, all the drawings staked out a pictorial field, becoming a singular object despite their protective glass. The transparent paper revealed the wall, and the powerful reflection of the glass took in the surrounding space. However, in this way, the drawings yielded not only a pictorial field—whether in the compositional terms of the ornamental shapes or the serial terms of their arrangement in rows—but two of the drawings also offered a frame for the steel bodies. The latter, in turn, as minimalist and serial- structure bodies akin to early Sol LeWitt cubes, reached out into space and also incorporated it. Complex scenarios emerged, leading from pure ornamental form to conceptual systems, from spatial concreteness to reflections on the theory of perception. Ultimately their theme became the status of the artwork itself.

Helmut Draxler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.