Biel, Switzerland

Erik Steinbrecher

Centre Pasqu'art

The monstrously distorted shadow cast by Avantgarde, 2003, an oversize, white-lacquered slatted fence lit by two spotlights in one corner of the darkened gallery, signaled, from the start, that the vanguard has become a ghost. That, or it only cares about theatrical effect these days, like the short video loops of stunt sequences repeating endlessly on three monitors at the entrance, playing with the big architectonic gesture, interrupting it. The five segments of the fence compartmentalized the room without ultimately dividing it. One could still walk along its edges, unhindered in the realm of shadows. Despite all the drama of the lighting, there were no mysteries. The grid of the fence and its crooked shadows served to plumb the strict white cube of the museum annex by Diener and Diener, as well as to offset it with a touch of irony. In early modernism, ornament was a crime. The sweeping form of the fence picks up this discourse with a knowing wink, but without the usual programmatic rigor. Indeed, the title of the exhibition suggests the end of all that is programmatic: “ARABESQUE À GOGO.”

Erik Steinbrecher has often worked with architecture and urbanism. His poster series for Documenta 10 (1997), at a bus stop near the old train station in Kassel, was, among other things, the result of long discussions with Catherine David’s team about the ideal layout of artwork in the city. In his exhibition in Biel, Steinbrecher combined this urbanistic discourse with his rich trove of accumulated images, by supplementing his installations, objects, and video sequences with a wordless newspaper filled with endless illustrations of fences, walls, partitions, hedges, bars, and barriers. Fences keep things out—and in. They are in essence physical, not optical, barriers.

The white-fence motif recurred in various roles throughout the show: as a kind of canopy or shelter in the exhibition room or, in a photograph taken from the auditorium of the Free University in Bozen, as a giant back support on a long bench. Hung in one of the exhibition spaces, a blue tarpaulin with two windows made an ultimately picturesque impression, like a distant relative of painting. The fields of the two windows gave a view of the white of the constructed wall, while zippers along the sides suggested that this module could be endlessly repeated, like the slats of the fence.

Dong, 2003, is the latest item in Steinbrecher’s plastic vocabulary. This white wooden post, which was turned on a lathe, jutted sideways from the wall out into the room. It looked like it might still be under production in a workshop, held with a clamp and a protective wad of foam. Its perfect workmanship and the sheen on its white surface made the prefabricated architectonic element auratic, untouchable, even though it seemed already to be functioning as a provisional room divider.

After the exhibition, the big fence was separated from its shadow and reinstalled on a lawn next to the museum. There, in the public realm, it asserts its curious status between yard divider and sculpture and echoes the serial form of Minimal art as well as of the stage sets of Disneyland—serious, but with a playful relationship to appearances.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.