Florian Pumhösl

Florian Pumhösl’s relationship to modernity has nothing to do with the widespread artistic historicism that playfully borrows modernist forms and ideas and uses them, “purified” of utopian and universalistic pretensions, for ironic or just entertaining purposes. Pumhösl’s work (much like that of Stan Douglas or Christopher Williams) is characterized by a historical perspective on modernity that is interested in its breaks, contradictions, and transformations. Part of this historically conscious praxis includes reconstructing exemplary modernist designs, and Pumhösl may be the artist who executes such reconstructions most literally and vividly.

Foremost among the objects of Pumhösl’s recent artistic research have been utopian and alternative approaches to design and architecture, with an emphasis on the social-revolutionary hopes vested in them, and their failures. He is particularly interested in the connections between modernist forms and ideas and the export of ideologies and conceptions of society to the developing world. At the Secession, formal considerations seemed to be separate, at first glance, from historical ones. Encountering Human and Ecological Republic, 2000, in the main hall, was like being transported back in time to a typical modernist sculpture exhibition from the ’50s. However, it was not the style of the objects that created this impression, but rather their extremely precise arrangement, which seemed to embody the ideal image of the clearly and harmoniously proportioned exhibition space. The objects themselves were reconstructions in cast concrete of serial and modular architectural elements, invoking—as if from a distant past—the spirit of rationalism, functionality, and transparency. Similarly remote-seeming is the Henry Moore sculpture Pumhösl has integrated into the exhibition, a loan from Vienna’s Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig. It was evocative, perhaps, of the moment when one might have been initiated, reverentially, into the world of modern art, and of a particular phase in the reception of modern art and its idea of a “world language,” as well as of its subsequent establishment as the international standard of urban decor. This only apparently formalist exhibition is remarkable precisely for its formalism. For it reflects, as exhibition, on the format of exhibition and, as a model of a modernist exhibition, points to the model-character inherent in modernistic concepts.

Pumhösl also presented Lac Mantasoa, 2000, a video of the remnants of an industrial city that was built according to the European model on the Mantasoa Reservoir in Madagascar. In a concentrated form the video presents an exemplary history of the city’s industrialization and modernization, not to mention setbacks due to changes of rule. While the story is told in greater detail in the catalogue, the video images attempt to reconstruct fragments of a history in which ever new design models break like waves over the givens of a specific place. The video is silent and thus cannot “explain” very much. We see plans, a number of decaying buildings, and, finally, in underwater shots, the areas of the city grounds flooded by the reservoir. Just as, in the main hall, Pumhösl reflects on the pattern of representation inherent in the exhibition format itself, the video seems intended less to communicate concrete information about a state of affairs than to point to the representational mode of documentary film, whose portrayal of foreign worlds has always had a stake in modernity’s expansionist spirit.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.