Kunsthalle Wien

October 15, 2004

Sculpture: Precarious Realism between the Melancholy and the Comical
15 October 2004 – 20 February 2005

Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, Infoline

Daily from 10.00 – 19.00 hours, Thurs 10.00 – 22.00 hours, Wed closed.
Press conference: Thursday 14 October 2004, 10.00 hours.
Opening: Thursday 14 October 2004, 19.00 hours.



Der Mensch befindet sich in einer vom Zufall bestimmten Welt; mit einem Wort: seine Existenz ist ein Glucksspiel. Die Welt ist ein Gefahrenschauplatz; sie ist ungewiss, unstabil, auf unheimliche Weise unstabil; ihre Gefahren sind regellos, unbestandig, unvorhersehbar.
John Dewey

The exhibition “Precarious Realism between the Melancholy and the Comical” displays sculptural work that does at once celebrate realism while at the same time throwing the power of its arguments into question. And why indeed should works of art be harmonious, perfect and classical? The works selected here do not reproduce reality but challenge it with a healthy dose of scepticism, calling on it to show its other face – other than the obvious one – to reveal its comical, grotesque and transcendent aspects. They goose the boundaries of decorum and care little for a correct reproduction of reality, instead creating the world from scratch. Fragile, crazy, provocative, in a word, precarious, is how these works present themselves in their search for that which lies behind the beautiful appearance of things: opening up often refractory, animated worlds of objects, heavenly-hybrid apparitions, or shapes that would seem to have sprung from a world beneath the surface of the earth, and cosmoses of a fantastic internalisation.

The exhibition traces a number of different trails. On the one hand, the will to present the human subject in paradoxical and comical situations and actions within a frequently refractory environment, and on the other hand, to bring on strangely animated worlds of reified objects and machines and alien, celestial or telluric creatures that give rise to the shudder of latent parallel worlds. The sculptural works may demonstrate human and quotidian qualities, while at the same time observing them in the process of dissolution and disappearance or else of transition from the human and creaturely-organical to something that is machine-like or tool-like or even architectural in shape.

In its search for perfection, the subject encounters the imponderables of human existence, and failure ensues. From there comes a sense of the melancholic as well as the comical. The tilting effect of a fragile balance generates the melancholy of both the approaching catastrophe of collapse and a yearning for a never-to-be-attained completeness. At the same time, the comical element enters the picture when the world goes out of kilter. While melancholy penetrates to the depths, the comical shows us the precariousness of the world, simultaneously affording us with the means of overcoming it, by laughing it off. It is this comical, paradoxical and ultimately fragile aspect of a shape that appears to emulate the realistic but “misses” it, even where it is hyper-realistic in form that reveals, in the very mistakenness of its attempt, the true character of what it is about to depict – in an existential, caricaturist, emphatic or frivolous interpretation.

Sometimes the different parts of reality appear to have been mounted in contradictory ways. The impression then becomes, in turn, surreal, technoid, futuristic or organic, revealing a potential for new functionalities – polymorphous ones, irreconcilable ones. The pattern of the known undergoes a revision of the ways of perception and utilisation. Hybrid forms are created, which are yet not so much invocations of the post-human as they are, rather, expressions based on the kingdom of the fantastic and phantasmagoric, on sarcastic humour or the focusing analysis of the sculptural itself. There is tendency both towards comicality, playfulness, the extrovertedly metaphorical, as well as towards the abjected, monstrous, and introvertedly obdurate. (The latter to be understood in its intellectually distanced form of a surprising thought experiment, not as a gesture of the psycho-analytically motivated evocation of the uncanny.)

This relative realism presents itself both in terms of its content and in its choice of materials. There is the classical bronze, wax, plaster, juxtaposed with more precarious materials such as clay, polyurethane, plasticine, latex, concrete, and Styrofoam. The precariousness shows itself in a number of aspects, as seemingly inanimate objects come alive take on an existence of their own, acquiring new functions within new alliances (Fischli/Weiss, Reppert, King). Other artists work with the element of trompe l’oeil, and mimicry, where precarious sculptures made of paper look like real woods of leaves or when sculptural reliefs made of polyurethane give the impression of being made of stone (Gabellone, Demand, Suda, Edmier.) Others again are alchemists, generating shapes that appear to have sprung from a world beneath the surface of the Earth )Benglis, West) and then there are those who create hybrid figures and identities such as angels, hermaphrodites, twins, mirrors all of a yearningly striven-for yet never-attained wholeness (Senoner, Boetti, Genzken, Manders and others.)

The works offering precarious aspects understood in this fashion are not, it is true, a completely new phenomenon, even where their shapes and forms are bafflingly alien. They are a part of an illustrious genealogy of famous sculptors and their conception of an open, sketchy form of a sculpture of the incomplete, one that attempts to make visible the invisible and to go searching after the mystery. Names that come to mind include Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso , Alberto Giacometti.

Medardo Rosso and Alighiero Boetti will make themselves available in this exhibition as guides who will consort with the fantastic works full of the melancholic and the comical by artists of the present, including Lynda Benglis, Alighiero Boetti, Tom Claassen, Thomas Demand, Keith Edmier, Urs Fischer, Peter Fischli David Weiss, Giuseppe Gabellone, Isa Genzken, Matt King, Martin Kippenberger, Takehito Koganezawa, Tetsumi Kudo, Sarah Lucas, Mark Manders, David Moises, Richard Prince, Jason Reppert, Medardo Rosso, Thomas Schtte, Peter Senoner, Erik Steinbrecher, Yoshihiro Suda, Rebecca Warren, Franz West, Bill Woodrow, Erwin Wurm.

Curator: Sabine Folie
Exhibition Catalogue: Skulptur. Prekarer Realismus zwischen Melancholie und Komik; Ed. Kunsthalle Wien,
Sabine Folie, Gerald Matt; 208 pages; in German; with numerous colour reproductions; ISBN 3-85247-054-4,

Information und Fotomaterial: Claudia Bauer, KUNSTHALLE wien, Buro: Museumsplatz 1, A-1070 Wien
Tel.: +43-1-521 89-1222, Fax: +43-1-521 89-1220, e-mail:
KUNSTHALLE wien, Skulptur, 3. Pressetext, 8. Oktober 2004

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