Florian Pumhösl

Galerie Krobath Wimmer

What does Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet, 1916, have to do with the navigation of warships? Florian Pumhösl has explored this unexpected question in a new group of works. Pumhösl, an artist of great precision, is interested in the relationship between bodies and space, and he studies this relationship by way of superflat surfaces that he ultimately brings into relation with a superexact spatial balance: With just four works, Pumhösl succeeds in lending the small exhibition space of this Vienna gallery an air of breadth and elegance.

Pumhösl’s footnotes to modernism seem austere, almost monastic. His examination of the rules and vocabulary of the modernist image-language takes place on a substrate more often associated with rural amateurs than with the crowning achievement of avant-garde art: Pumhösl paints on glass, or better, paints behind it. And yet the verre églomisé technique from which Pumhösl’s is adapted was used by Josef Albers, among others. The avant-garde filmmaker Oskar Fischinger was a practitioner of the genre, as was the German artist, graphic designer, and leader of the Jena Kunstverein, Walter Dexel. The technique is intimately connected with the aspiration to modernize traditional crafts in the age of industrial production.

Pumhösl’s finely differentiated and exactingly contoured personal method entails a very close look at abstract and reductionist traditions of modernism while at the same time referring to representation. He allows himself a positively romantic impulse with the use of old glass plates, complete with air pockets, to somewhat counter the tendency to be all too picture-perfect. Lines on monochromatic—black, white, or gray—backgrounds can be associated with Schlemmer’s stereometric bodies, whereas in the painting titled Battle of Manila Bay (Turning Maneuvers) (all works 2005) the overlapping curves represent the movement of an American battleship.

With a suggestion of unity that is also taken up in the office space of the gallery, Pumhösl continues his aesthetic evaluation of modernism in Element, a thoughtful study of the material associations triggered by abstract paintings and of the way extreme formal reductivism can produce powerful content. Pumhösl rigorously concentrates his work down to the founding grammatical principles of the modern image vocabulary and works unwaveringly to connect exemplary moments of the avant-garde—in architecture, design, or experimental film—along their lines of fracture and contradiction.

“Modernity and renewal,” wrote the late curator Igor Zabel in his catalogue essay “Individual Systems” for the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003, “by their nature are connected to ideas of a rational and ordered mode of thought, of a planned and effective kind of production, with ideas of a thoughtful use of space and resources, with ideas of a well-organized and equitable society.” Pumhösl, too, has in mind historical situations, political realities, and concrete social structures when he executes his model studies on the relationship of space and bodies. He carefully combines exacting research into both aesthetic and social formations, translating them into an almost painfully clear language that asserts itself precisely in once-ambiguous areas. When Pumhösl packs his insights into one of his works, it is free from speculation, liberated from every convention; it is poetic and touching, it hits a nerve.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.