Gerwald Rockenschaub


Gerwald Rockenschaub’s recent installation in the Secession asked us to go beyond the art object to consider the institution in which it is placed. The Secession was founded as a temple to art, and only Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven frieze remains as a testament to that goal. Because of Klimt’s work, this building has become a tourist attraction, an aspect of the site that Rockenschaub views as a basic condition of any exhibition installed here.

As he did in his installations at the Venice Biennale and Zurich’s Galerie Walcheturm, Rockenschaub uses the particularities of the site as a point of departure. Upstairs he placed six chairs in a row, facing the window. Two walls had been erected in the main space to create a broad corridor, and the doors to the garden café had been left open as if to encourage passing tourists to enter. On these walls hung computer-manipulated photographs; the poor image quality of the prints echoed the shoddy quality of the walls, as if to underline the institution’s current budgetary constraints. Below, the galleries remained empty, the last one filled with the sounds of a DJ playing techno music.

Rockenschaub’s photographs are cityscapes, but these are no picture-postcard views or Situationist maps, rather, they are snapshots that document a systematic tour of Vienna’s districts. As the viewer reached the end of these photos, he reached the end of the exhibition. Having completed a tour of Vienna by viewing this series of images, he physically exited the space only to realize that looking at the images without considering the site in which they were placed was like looking at a guide to Vienna instead of walking through the city. In this way, Rockenschaub pointed out how art institutions are rarely experienced in their totality and complexity, but more often as tourist attractions—as a series of carefully controlled images.

An institution is both the organization that represents particular principles and those principles themselves, a situation that is difficult to represent or experience visually. Rockenschaub does not attempt to speak from a theoretical position outside the visual realm, rather he opens up the space in a way that allows the viewer to become conscious of what it means to look. He guides our gaze to the controlling systems, to the way in which the institution supplies the viewer with esthetic parameters, asking us to take into account the connection between the works shown and the context they are shown in.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.