View of “Josef Dabernig,” 2011.

View of “Josef Dabernig,” 2011.

Josef Dabernig

Galerie Andreas Huber

View of “Josef Dabernig,” 2011.

Distributing a medium across the thousand plateaus of perception is an exercise that visual artist and filmmaker Josef Dabernig has mastered like no one else. He studied sculpture, but since then has been dissolving the concept of sculpture in the acid bath of media plurality—a plurality that this creator of conceptual cross-references identifies as “film, photo, text, object, architecture.” For his recent show “Sports Grounds and Structural Approach,” Dabernig put his eclectically expressive vocabulary at the disposal of a personal passion: soccer (previously the subject of one of his most successful short films, Wisla, 1996, which follows an imaginary match through the faces and gestures of two trainers as they watch it).

When Dabernig arrives in a foreign city—the Georgian city of Tbilisi, say, or Gyumri in Armenia, or (those seen in this show) Lviv and Truskavets in Ukraine, and São Paulo in Brazil—he immediately gets on a bus and scours the city in search of floodlight masts. They indicate the presence of soccer fields. He then photographs them according to a procedure that is always the same: The field is empty; the photographer stands on the halfway line and takes three snapshots facing left and three facing right—a pan of 180 degrees. Allowing himself no optical frivolities, Dabernig creates aesthetically challenging pictures that bear witness to the ambivalence of perception. But the result is something like a panorama, a genre to which Dabernig is passionately devoted—the most thrilling image machine of the nineteenth century and a precursor to the cinema.

But as a braking maneuver to avoid possibly all-too cinematic effects and to manage the block of works, Dabernig installs his work meticulously, following a strict formula for the presentation of the images in two rows, one above the other. Morever, the artist supplemented the photographs with a couple of early sculptures. Each of these sculptures consists—like the ideal panorama—of six parts. While one is based on the complicatedly calculated mutation of a formal progression, the other, Untitled, 1991, is made of stacked table trestles and functions as an example of a freestyle approach to the variable. And although some visitors might mistake this sculpture for a pile of trash, such confusion is something the artist welcomes.

Dabernig deploys his photographs in an installation context, considering the medium in spatial terms. To this end he also uses strange plastic frames with pseudo-decorative metal corners. Matte, translucent panes of plastic enclose each photographic work, blurring it and robbing it of depth and brilliance of color. “The form always plays the most important role,” the artist has remarked in an almost existentially phlegmatic statement. But the other Dabernig, the soccer fan who knows everything about the Brazilian quadruple champions Corinthians Paulista (whose eighteen-thousand-seat stadium he has photographed) and about their legendary player Ronaldo—well, he might disagree.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.