Vienna

Gerald Rockenschaub

MUMOK is a hermetic, nearly windowless building that is anything but open and airy. It takes a master like Gerwald Rockenschaub to give this bunker a sense of weightlessness and openness—and that despite the show’s notoriously difficult format, the retrospective. Turned off, perhaps, by the prospect of yet another anxious heaping up of work, Rockenschaub rose above the usual demand for overflowing halls with a self-assured display of nearly empty space. With the precision of a marksman (and just twelve works), he hit the bull’s-eye.

“4296 m3” is a cryptic title with a simple explanation: It refers to the cubic dimensions of the exhibition rooms and, therefore, to the significance Rockenschaub granted the exhibition as an artwork in its own right. With an intervention at once laconic and keen, he cut the space into two exhibition areas: A wall divided a white cube from a black box. A square opening was cut into the wall. The finesse of this simple gesture revealed itself in many ways: Depending on the angle at which it is viewed, the aperture appears as a flat orthogonal shape, perhaps a reference to Malevich’s Black Square, 1915, or to Rockenschaub’s own earlier neo-geo period. Standing right in front of the opening and looking into the other room, one felt as if in a theater looking at a stage on which “performers”—both people and objects—parade by in a six-part computer animation.

A DJ as well as an artist, Rockenschaub wanted this “reload and remix” to “show a selection of works that approach, in a prototypical way, the ideas that form the basis of his oeuvre, and not just chronologically arrange things according to art-historical considerations.” On a minimalist platform that fills much of the room, Rockenschaub arranged a large, blow-up PVC cube perpendicular to a wall of clear acrylic crates and a platform with ladder that was part of an installation shown at the 1993 Venice Biennale. Like a space-awareness machine, it activates the viewer’s perception, prompting us to see what cannot be seen. In front of this platform, transparent plastic curtains hung from the ceiling, forming a passageway through which visitors were steered into the space—movement transformers as well as instruments for experiencing space as something vibrating and blurred.

The programmatic nature of Rockenschaub’s early geometric picture-objects—viewed from afar, behind a red rope—as “concentrated ideas in model format” also provides the basis for his current animations. In recurring loops, motifs similar to those used in the early, colored-foil collages glide by as an endless visual mantra, hypnotically expanding Rockenschaub’s sign language in space and time. And at the same time it is rigorously profane, jarring, and bright.

Rockenschaub leaves it to the catalogue, a thick package in pink vinyl, to chronicle his twenty-four years as an artist. His midcareer survey, on the contrary, refuses to be exactly that; instead it’s a chill-out executed with crystal-clear professionalism—a pathway through artistic praxis, a work that comes to life with the viewer’s active perception. Rockenschaub has heeded La Monte Young’s good advice from 1961: Draw a straight line and follow it.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.