Galerie Nächst St. Stephan

The world keeps growing smaller, countries keep moving closer and closer together; once disparate cultures now overlap, influencing each other more and more. This is an ironclad fact, even if art theory still manages to sneak past a comparative investigation of the art of various cultures.

Kulturen—Verwandtschaften in Geist und Form” (Cultures — relations in spirit and form) made an attempt to deal with the art of diverse eras and cultures within the four small rooms of this gallery. It was successful chiefly because juxtapositions defied all conventional criteria. Contemporary paintings and drawings were contrasted with Asiatic sculpture, a ceramic vessel, an ancient pre-Columbian textile, a contemporary sculpture, a hundred-year-old Haida totem pole, and a rigorously geometric piece by a contemporary North American.

There were two black, vertical strokes by Barnett Newman, with a black Buddha statue from Thailand standing in front of them. Just what do they have in common, the viewer wonders. Yet he knows, or senses, that there is something; there is a dignity inherent in both works. Joseph Beuys’ bronze Bergkönig (Mountain king, 1961), lies on the floor; on the wall behind it hangs a Peruvian textile with masklike faces that is over 1,000 years old. This time it is the sinister quality that binds these two objects together. In the next room, we see a painting by Josef Albers, a colorfully painted aluminum object by Donald Judd, and the painted totem already mentioned. Here, it is the color treatment that sparks a dialogue between these very different works.

In general, the viewer keeps discovering individual elements that pass like a thread through the exhibition; now it is the form, now the kind of line, or the colors. Turning around, he marvels at the geometric systems, which reveal similar structures—whether in a Rune Mields painting, in the decoration on a ceramic vessel, or in a textile. We see more and more relationships as well as differences, which, at every step, keep shifting and restructuring themselves, thereby helping us to unearth the familiar in the exotic and the exotic in the familiar.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.