Walter Pichler, TV-Helm (Tragbares Wohnzimmer) (TV Helmet [Portable Living Room]), 1967, gelatin silver print, 17 3⁄8 × 11".

Walter Pichler, TV-Helm (Tragbares Wohnzimmer) (TV Helmet [Portable Living Room]), 1967, gelatin silver print, 17 3⁄8 × 11".

Walter Pichler

Resolute in the pursuit of his vision, Walter Pichler ignored the pressures of the market, avoided unnecessary public appearances, and spurned the slightest compromise, zealously guarding his independence and confronting the art world with great skepticism. The museum-worthy exhibition “Prototypes, Sculptures, Drawings” brought together a range of little-known, rarely seen yet major sculptures, photographs, and other works from the 1960s and 1970s that were demonstrative of Pichler’s unwavering approach to making art. The show positioned Pichler as postwar Austria’s liaison not only to the likes of ancient Egyptian art, Constantin Brancusi, and Alberto Giacometti, but also to a burgeoning Pop art scene. In contrast with the proclivity for poetic gestures and strident actions among his Viennese artist peers at the time, Pichler’s focus on themes such as technology, fashion, outer space, and communication was a rarity.

Expertly cocurated by gallerist Thomas Krinzinger and the artist’s daughter Anna Tripamer, the show surveyed an incontestably imposing oeuvre that straddles the line between tradition and the avant-garde. The work on view melded Pichler’s futuristic vision with clay from Saint Martin, the small village in southeastern Austria where he lived from 1973 until his death in 2012. His property there was a lifelong work in progress, akin to Donald Judd’s compound in Marfa, Texas; both artists’ decamping from urban centers constituted, in part, a form of defiance and refusal. While Pichler had an early debut at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1975, he was often mistaken for an archaic regionalist who chose to live off the grid for political reasons. Despite his remote base, Pichler was a widely traveled cosmopolitan who was known for the custom-tailored, single-breasted, three-buttoned suits he often wore. But one can easily imagine this sophisticated man of the world donning the TV-Helm (Tragbares Wohnzimmer) (TV Helmet [Portable Living Room]) and Radioweste (Radio Vest), both 1967, he exhibited at Documenta 4 in 1968. For William Klein’s 1969 film Mr. Freedom, he made a cubicle out of PVC tubes and metal pipes. The legendary “Prototypes”—architectural spaceship fantasies—were represented in the show by numerous reproductions of historic photographs, documentary materials, and Apparat (Prototyp 1) (Apparatus [Prototype 1]), 1966. Facing the latter, two sculptures—Grat (Edge), 1972, and the negative mold Schlucht (Gorge), 1997— referred to Pichler’s decision to give up the intoxications of the Summer of Love, and to an organic turn in his work, as cherrywood and bronze supplanted epoxy and plastic.

In addition to conveying a keen sense of Pichler as a person and an artist, the exhibition clarified the relationship between sculpture, architecture, and design in his eclectic career. A marvelous large drawing, Der nächste Plan (The Next Plan), ca. 1990, showed him struggling under the weight of the home he envisioned for two works on the farmstead in Saint Martin. Zusammengesetzte Figur (Composite Figure), 1999, a self-portrait assemblage featuring a 1980 chocolate head by Dieter Roth and a pair of sharply creased, wooden pants, guarded the sensitively arranged room dedicated to Pichler’s encompassing artistic vision that still brings pilgrims to the distant hamlet on the Raab River.

Crucial to the exhibition were three works that anticipated the analytical bent of Conceptual art of the 1990s, which turned its attention to the conditions undergirding an artwork. A blood-soaked cloth in Reliquienschrein (Beschreibung einer Reiseroute) (Reliquary Shrine [Description of an Itinerary]), 1971, shows Pichler’s most incisive entry into Actionist Hermann Nitsch’s orbit, while photographs and cutouts of road maps of the Americas reflect his support for indigenous peoples and the Black Power movement. Political allegory and satire are unmistakable in Reliquie (Interpretation einer of Aggression) (Relic [Interpretation of an Aggression]), 1970, while Fundstücke aus Kreta (Finds from Crete), 1970, with its modern aluminum hook hovering over replicas of Mycenaean cult horns in glass cases, highlights Pichler’s engagement with the readymade. With this show, even the artist’s friends and longtime admirers could find new perspectives on his many-sided oeuvre.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.