Lois Renner

Kerstin Engholm Galerie

Lois Renner is Austria’s wiliest painter-sculptor. More precisely, he could be called a modelmaker. But what may strike some as paradoxical is that the result of his analyses of color, form, space, and composition is always a photograph. His large-format color images show chaotic rooms overburdened with materials: accumulations of wood planks and model-making supplies, of paint cans and easels, of machines, ladders, and workbenches. The artist’s studio, in its classic or idealized form, is reimagined as an opulently decked stage that tells a tale of manual labor. The camera mixes it all into chaotic, flurried wastelands that tip the scales of reality and documentation and spill into fiction and fabrication.

For many years now, even back in what one might term the pre-Demand epoch, Renner has based his work on the idea of the model. He calls his three-dimensional miniature volumes, constructed at one-tenth scale, “objects,” and his method differs from architectural modelmaking proper by virtue of the ill-mannered mutations that characterize his Merzbau-like constructions both then and now-his love of cinematic, David Lynch-esque moments of confusion, as when banal reality reasserts itself in the form of giant screwdrivers or neon tubes or even a huge sculpture of a romanesco, a vegetable similar to broccoli. With a baroque delight in staging, he has these anomalies dance about at eye level over the seismological turmoil of the studio, illuminating their “sculptural values” and fixing them in time. Renner has said that he builds models precisely in order to lose time and that he wins this time back through photography. He has always believed, this pupil of Gerhard Richter went on to tell me, that sculpture, much more than video art, can be a viable model for painting. Thus the studio models function as models of painting, as the nexus where haptic experience meets the organization of surfaces, where one area spills into the other. Renner makes the observer aware of the spatial preconditions of his work and thematizes the relationship and interaction of the artwork and the site of its production. The studio and its model become an experimental stage on which life and art take turns making their appearance.

For this exhibition, “Photojobs,” Renner aimed his camera even more intensely at the hardware of the studio. Equipment that might have been stowed out of view, such as ladders, office chairs, and flat files, is all left out in the open. Nonetheless, its status is unsure and ambivalent, just as the reliability of our perception remains uncertain. In these works, made using a new high-resolution printing process, Renner rigorously tests the possibilities of digital manipulation. His fascination with the analog photograph as a “unified whole” is mixed with a melancholy awareness of its expiration date. Presenting photographs that document reality but at the same time can be perceived as mock-ups, the artist takes questions of perception out for a test run. The double sense of the model—both exemplar and imitation—perfectly characterizes the transgressive strategies of an artist happily shooting down the conventions of representation.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.