Hermann J. Painitz

ZEIT KUNST NIEDERÖSTERREICH | MUSEUM OF LOWER AUSTRIA
Kulturbezirk 5
March 29–August 24

View of “Hermann J. Painitz: Self Evident,” 2014.

The extensive and extraordinary oeuvre of Hermann J. Painitz, which has hardly received attention in the past few decades, now shines remarkably in the Austrian province of St. Pölten. Since the 1960s, Painitz has been known for examining processes of translation between disciplines and for sketching the passage of time in motionless media such as painting and drawing. His art is deeply inspired by the Wiener Gruppe (who were in turn influenced by Wittgenstein) and was friends with the filmmaker Peter Kubelka, Kurt Kren of the Wiener Aktionismus, and the early media artist Marc Adrian, all four of whom influenced one another.

Focusing on works from the 1960s and ’70s, “Self Evident,” which is curated by Alexandra Schantl, homes in on Painitz’s analytic and formalist pictures and sculptures while also offering numerous works on paper, collages, sound works, poems, and theoretical texts—some of the latter written while he was president of the Wiener Secession from 1977 to 1983. Many of his works incorporate numbers or simple monochrome forms (such as spheres, squares, and cubes), which equally bring to mind notations, rhythms, and sequences. This is especially the case with Painitz’s characteristic concentric configurations, which resemble targets and can be found in almost every work on view. In Lebende österreichische Künstler (Living Austrian Artists), 1974, he even mapped out his artistic contemporaries via circles in a self-devised system.

In the 1970s, Painitz developed a system of pictograms and diagrams from which he crafted new visual codes, eventually creating his own alphabets that exchange objects for letters. For instance, in Bread Alphabet, 1975, each letter corresponds to a baked good. In attempting to decipher these works, one notices that they sometimes reflect a series of choices—and indeed a life—behind their constructedness.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Angela Stief

Michaël Borremans

BOZAR CENTRE FOR FINE ARTS
Rue Ravensteinstraat 23
February 22–August 3

Michaël Borremans, The Preservation, 2001, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 23 1/2”.

Michaël Borremans’s paintings function like “a knife in the eye.” The sharp quality usually is presented through a timeless feeling of beauty, which can be seen in this extensive survey containing forty-seven paintings, forty-six drawings, five films, and two maquettes, all made between 2000 and 2013.

In his larger oil paintings, figures appear alone in a moment of immobility or introverted action. Typically, there is no eye contact with the viewer, and it’s not always clear if the figure depicted is alive, such as those in The Bodies (I), 2005, or the one in The Preservation, 2001, where a translucent cap is placed on the head of girl with closed eyes. The scenes are quiet and often involve some kind of inexplicable appearance, which is the point that draws the viewer into the image. In Two Circles, 2006, for example, human bodies appear as miniatures from a bird’s-eye view in two connected circle formations assembled for some higher—or maybe evil—cause. The eerie, oppressive atmosphere in Borremans’s work is also produced through scale differences within each scene, as in The House of Opportunity, 2004, in which an oversize building without windows appears as a foreign element in an otherwise pastoral setting.

Borremans relates his technique to pre-modern sources—the work of Diego Velázquez being his greatest example because of its combination of psychological sensibility with an increasingly loose and suggestive brushstroke. It is also difficult not to relate Borremans’s paintings to the oeuvre of his fellow countryman, René Magritte. It is in the surreal if not strictly Belgian imagination where we see the contemporary image gain focus.

Jurriaan Benschop

Henrik Olesen

NATIONAL GALLERY OF DENMARK
Sølvgade 48-50
May 23–September 28

Henrik Olesen, Abandon the Parents, 2003, mixed media, 12 x 8".

This show’s title, “Abandon the Parents,” invites us to subvert tradition, reject prescription, and enter a world of life, death, culture, and sex. To this end, artist and curator Henrik Olesen—with help from gallerists Daniel Buchholz and Christopher Müller—has assembled a constellation of self-discovery: 250-plus artifacts in nearly every medium. Paintings are hung three-high above densely curated vitrines of first edition books; an unplayable LP is backed by sound and video art on tiny screens. This exploded world possesses its own density—its own currents, suggestions, persuasions—indeed, its own traditions. Tom of Finland’s iconic bulging bikers make several appearances, for example—in original drawings, but also in Olesen’s collage Abschied von den Eltern (Abandon the Parents), 2003, and on the cover of a 1992 book of short stories by Phil Andros. Other works have simply the tang of liberty—such as the loosely intersecting figures in Anne Imhof’s Was tun Freund?, (What to Do Friend) 2013, or Michael Krebber’s Untitled, 1996. Elsewhere, a figure made of painted lumber by K8 Hardy and a city trash can by Klara Liden reenforce each other’s brutal anthropomorphism—like weary, post-Marxist bodies, slumped together in solidarity.

The exhibition also contains a number of impressive curatorial coups—for instance, a painting by Kristian Zahrtmann, a nineteenth-century Danish history painter and sometimes cross-dresser who rendered ladies of status with an opulence approaching drag. His Death of Queen Sophie Amalie, 1882, usually in a heavy gilt frame as part of the Statens Museum for Kunst’s permanent hang, has here been stripped down—just one of a dozen naked canvases on a particular wall—yet also rendered permeable, reentered into Olesen’s complex thesis. Many of these cross-wirings are culturally specific, and will evade most viewers; I was lucky to have if not a father, at least a Danish friend. In this world without parents, only an overflow of texts and images provides unruly guidance; casework and sculptures create dead ends; works bear the invitations of labels to “touch” or “do not touch.”

Travis Diehl