Manfred Wakolbinger

Galerie Grita Insam

Viewers who have been following the perspicuous development of Manfred Wakolbinger’s work may have been caught off guard by this recent group of pieces. In an ensemble of three copper-sheet sculptures, accompanied by large-format photographs, this young Austrian inaugurated a new phase in his artistic evolution. Since 1983 Wakolbinger has been working on a kind of evolutionary history of the mutual relationship between pedestal and sculpture, foregrounding this problem to a degree that has rarely been witnessed since Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti. The artist initiated this line of inquiry by inserting the metal body of his figurative sculptures into simple pedestals of plaster or concrete. Externally, the cold gray pedestal dominated, asserting itself as sculpture, but internally, the shiny copper sheet developed a multivocal life, tempting us with its aura of mystery.

During the next two years, Wakolbinger radicalized this sculptural thought with block shapes that created a more powerful relationship with the surrounding architecture. These seemingly massive cylinders and rectangular parallelepipeds enclosed an increasingly labyrinthine internal structure that could only be glimpsed through portholelike apertures. In this way, Wakolbinger developed a physical tension between the interior and the the exterior.

In his new pieces, the inner metal coating has been peeled out of the gray mortar and transformed into an autonomous hollow body. The pedestal has vanished, but only seemingly: for at one spot, a glass cube turns up, precisely encompassing the exterior of the copper body. However, the purpose of this glass form is not simply to contain the sculpture in a vitrine; its goal is to make the negative volume around the body a tangible and constitutive part of the work. The enveloping glass cube must then be thought of as extending into the “white cube” of the gallery space. At that point we grow conscious of the volume of the room, and the viewer as active parts of the sculptural arrangement. Wakolbinger has tackled the primal phenomenon of sculpture—the relationship between the space-displacing body and the spatial volume enfolding it. First he reversed the body turning it into a negative volume that vanishes into the pedestal, then, he cleared the coast in order to transform the body itself into a soclelike entity.

The nine black and white pictures that surround the sculptures include shots of serial and structural patterns from the plant kingdom, as well as from technological and architectural sources. An analogy develops between the images and the sculptures when the viewer realizes that these ornamental envelopes, whether natural or artificial, owe their forms to purely sculptural and functional processes. As a result, the photographs point to Wakolbinger’s sculptural practice as an organic process, in which the abstracted body and its relationship to space are always at the center.

Markus Brüderlin

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.