Vienna

gelatin, Loch (Hole), 2013, mixed media. Installation view.

gelatin, Loch (Hole), 2013, mixed media. Installation view.

gelatin

21er Haus

gelatin, Loch (Hole), 2013, mixed media. Installation view.

Once again, Austria’s leading art collective created a piece as magical as it was precise. Having come of age in the era of punk, gelatin (or Gelatin or, sometimes, gelitin)—Wolfgang Gantner, Ali Janka, Florian Reither, and Tobias Urban—avail themselves of provocative attitudes, nonconformist behavior, and gently buffered rebellion to pull unprecedented stunts. They use any means available; gelatin loves cross-references among painting, sculpture, and rock music, between architecture and sports, between performance and fashion, between event and discourse. As a result, they are probably among the most exciting acts today’s art world has to offer.

And once again, over the course of the six-day performance that began their exhibition “Loch” (Hole), gelatin delivered a masterpiece. In it they dispatched, once and for all, such trifles as Minimalism and Situationism; the Alps in general and sculpture in particular; performance, process-based, and participatory art; grunge, death metal, electronica, and classical piano music; exhibition display; and organic food. The primary materials used were Styrofoam and plaster: A gigantic architectural block of Styrofoam measuring twenty-six feet on each side rose up almost to the ceiling of the well-lit central hall in the steel-frame structure of the former Museum of the Twentieth Century, recently taken over by the Belvedere, which focuses on Austrian art, and turned into 21er Haus, a site for contemporary work. Up on top of the cube, a roped party comprising the members of gelatin along with other experienced artist-climbers scrambled about, working on the Styrofoam with hot-wire cutters, boring holes and, little by little, demolishing the massif. Chunks of the stuff came crashing down; flakes whirled around and rained onto the floor. The prize was “negative space”: holes into which wet plaster was cast. Objets trouvés gathered from flea markets were used as handles for extricating the resulting sculptures from the Styrofoam matrix. These movable castoffs of civilization starred as playful grotesques sustained by the synchronicity of the real and the absurd, of satirical force and the courage to do the extraordinary. Cheered on by large and lively crowds of fans, gelatin and company lowered their random sculptures (which, to top it all, looked marvelous) to the ground, where more artist-helpers—some of them “Princesses” in picturesquely tattered wedding gowns—were waiting to receive the works and give them a cursory cleaning off. Boisterous elementary-school children enthusiastically lent a hand.

The expansive production was as perfect as it was chaotic. The thirty-three-member team commandeered the museum space—which boasts one of the richest traditions in Vienna—like there was no tomorrow: as a studio, as a stage, as a music club. Keen music aficionados, gelatin had invited such avant-gardists as Schuyler Maehl (US), Mundi (Iceland), Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir (Iceland), and Philipp Quehenberger (Austria) to boost the live performance with their sounds. As the participants in the Happening congregated, on one occasion, in what felt like a live replica of the ancient Laocoön sculpture; as they scattered across the museum’s garden like the peasants in Brueghel’s wedding picture; as a grove of sculptures grew around the Styrofoam quarry, we heard the message: It spoke of the urgent need for an unfiltered experience of artistic processes.

Brigitte Huck