View of “Markus Schinwald,” 2011–12.

View of “Markus Schinwald,” 2011–12.

Markus Schinwald

View of “Markus Schinwald,” 2011–12.

It was only last year that Markus Schinwald transformed the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale into a labyrinth open to the feet and closed to the gaze, but the Lentos Kunstmuseum in Linz recently also put on a compelling exhibition of this artist’s work. The exhibition hall, a heroically scaled space of 8,600 square feet and a good eighteen feet in height, is like the parking garage for the Batmobile, and it suited Schinwald’s purposes perfectly. The pathology of uncomfortable spaces and the syntax, emotional undercurrents, and psychological aspects of empty interiors have often given him the impetus for his complex installations.

A continuous raised walkway led through the entire exhibition, functioning now as a stage, now as a viewing platform, sometimes creating a barrier or squeezing visitors up against the wall, then becoming a staircase or a pedestal to be clambered over. Walls of varying height and sunken floors marked out the terrain of separate groups of sculptures, while dropped-ceiling elements defined a space for film projections. The architecture here functioned as a prop for the gaze, a spatial prosthesis, regulating perception, helping visitors find the best viewing positions. It was fascinating to observe the way Schinwald’s dramaturgy of light and shadow caused the show’s visitors to double as actors on a stage, performers compelled to submit to his direction. These spatial constraints led at times to physical contortions not unlike the gestures and positions assumed, for instance, by the actors in the artist’s video Ten in Love, 2006.

The show began with an early series based on hybrid clothing. Schinwald’s dysfunctional, unwearable shoe styles, like the heelless Low Heels, 1997, or his straitjacket tied elegantly in the back, bear witness to our conflicted relationship with the body and the role clothes play as wearable prostheses. Defamiliarization, change, correction, and metamorphosis also characterize the nineteenth-century historical portraits and graphic works that Schinwald has dredged up from the depths of Europe’s minor auction houses and painted over. In them one sees absurdly expanded bodies, prostheses, and fetishes, the veiling of old identities and the awakening of new ones. Beyond all this, the disturbing peep show of Schinwald’s Linz panopticon also contained a bicycle, a splendid red curtain, sculptures made of Chippendale chair legs, an eleven-hour clock, and the video A Stage Matrix III, 2010, which documents a performance featuring dancers and automated furniture. In its volatile mix of the familiar and the disconcerting, Schinwald’s work is at once eclectic and mysterious. He is a master in the organization of pictorial worlds: Their external manifestations are perfectly aesthetic and artificial, their interior timbre mega-emotional and highly unsettling. The hysterical contortions performed by a young woman on a creaking wood floor in an old Viennese bourgeois milieu in the video 1st Part Conditional, 2004, are enough to cause visitors’ hair to stand on end—particularly when we are also confronted with a bearded man in an armchair who never takes his eyes off her. Schinwald meanders through cultures, media, and genres, making his way into an orbit just far enough removed from the earth to afford a good view of these scenes of blurred identity, shifting reality, and Batman’s parking garage.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.