Vienna

Klaus Weber

Secession

In taking over the cool white cube of the Vienna Secession, Klaus Weber introduced a Baroque emotionality. Effortlessly unbalancing the Jugendstil symmetry of the central court, he used light, sound, and even odor to shake up this monument to functionality. In an anarchic masque, Beauty, Pleasure, Time, and Disillusionment appeared as allegorical figures on a stage that Weber prepared for his unusual repertoire. This versatile impresario, conceptual artist, resourceful laboratory technician, and master of the cover version knows, as the Situationists once said, that there’s a beach beneath the paving stones. He has produced a remarkably subversive oeuvre based on ostensibly innocuous experimental protocols. The form they took at the Secession was sculptural fireworks.

Weber invites us to think of his exhibition strategy as “goal-oriented escapism,” and so the artist shows us various escape routes that promise new beginnings via (generally rather tricky) transformations. The motif of transformation was most clearly epitomized by a group of sculptures made of blast-furnace slag, two totemic ceramic sculptures crowned by actual vegetables, and a homemade tornado created using a fog machine and a vacuum cleaner. Public Fountain LSD Hall, 2003, a psychedelic fountain, has been put together out of a few beautiful, glittering glass parts. The work refers to the twenty-seven-foot-high crystal fountain from the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, and is made of recycled bits of leftover glass from the company that manufactured the original, as Weber casually informs us in the handwritten proposal that is part of the work. Why not take him at his word, including his assurance that LSD is effective in staving off senility when administered in homeopathic doses?

From the powers of the mind—now subject to hallucinations—to those of nature is only a small step: Unfolding cul-de-sac, 2002/2008, is an installation featuring a garden hut mounted on asphalt on top of compost in which Weber has sown “sidewalk mushrooms,” muscular fungi that can grow right through layers of tar. Spores of this absurd flora are stored in a refrigerator. The artist invites visitors to take a sample and scatter them in the public sphere to engage in guerilla gardening. Pale green Spanish moss hangs from the ceiling; this epiphyte lives on air and its host plant alone and can be used as packing material. Other objects are scattered about as well, including monkey figurines, a pair of mescaline-producing San Pedro cacti grafted together, photographic prints, an automobile placed beneath an endlessly flowing shower, and a table with monitors on which a Weber video medley is playing. Adding to the cacophony, wind chimes tinkle in the distance. This sound—a familiar, pleasant background noise in Californian homes—is actually generated by a large set of chimes, stirred by fans and ringing out in a tritone or augmented fourth that is known as the “devil’s interval.” Used in Baroque music to signify transgression, Weber’s use of this conceit is just one more example of the refinement with which the artist links classical approaches to art with visionary deformation.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss