Tuesday, 09 August 2016 19:21

Franz Graf

»See What Sees You«


Among other things, with exhibits by Franz Graf and Marc Adrian, Estera Alicehajic, Theo Altenberg, Ferdinand Andri, Anouk Lamm Anouk, Nobuyoshi Araki, Magnús Árnason, Johanna Arneth, Snorri Ásmundsson, Rudolf Bacher, Franz Barwig the Elder, Lothar Baumgarten, Selina de Beauclair, Tjorg Douglas Beer, Joseph Beuys, Binär, Herbert Boeckl, Anna-Maria Bogner, Herbert Brandl, Geta Brătescu, Arik Brauer, Günter Brus, William S. Burroughs, James Lee Byars, John Cage, Nina Canell, Ernst Caramelle, Anna Ceeh, Larry Clark, Tamara Dinka, Iris Dostal, Marcel Duchamp, Dejan Dukic, Rudolf Eb.er & Joke Lanz, Valie Export, Helmut Federle, Ernst Fuchs, Walther Gamerith, August Gaul, Ron Geesin & Roger Waters, Gelitin, Liam Gillick & Corinne Jones, Allen Ginsberg, Sara Glaxia, Gottfried Goebel, Karl Iro Goldblat, Martin Grandits, Fritz Grohs, Mario Grubisic, Kristján Guðmundsson, The Guerilla Art Action Group, Tatjana Hardikov, Friedrich Hartlauer, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir, Rudolf Hausner, André Heller, Herbert Hinteregger, Benjamin Hirte, Marcel Houf, Françoise Janicot, Ali Janka, Ana Jelenkovic, Robert Jelinek, Hildegard Joos, Donald Judd, Tillman Kaiser, Felix Kalmar, Allan Kaprow, Mike Kelley, Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger, Richard Kern, Leopold Kessler, Martin Kippenberger, Imi Knoebel, Peter Kogler, Franz Koglmann & Bill Dixon, Zenita Komad, Svetlana Kopystiansky, Brigitte Kowanz, Angelika Krinzinger, Elke Silvia Krystufek, Zofia Kulik, Doreen Kutzke, Marcellvs L., Bruce LaBruce, Eskil Loftsson, Daniel Löwenbrück, Sarah Lucas & Julian Simmons, Victor Man, Mark Manders, Michaela Math, marshall!yeti, Otto Maurer, Paul McCarthy, Andrew M. McKenzie, Bjarne Melgaard, Cecilie Meng, Merzbow, Rune Mields, Chiara Minchio, Milan Mladenovic, Klaus Mosettig, Otto Muehl, Wladd Muta, Adam Mühl, Gina Müller, Mario Neugebauer, Hermann Nitsch, Oswald Oberhuber, Erik Oppenheim & David Kelleran, Charlemagne Palestine, Manfred Pernice, Goran Petercol, Rade Petrasevic, Raymond Pettibon, Walter Pichler, Begi Piralishvili, Elisabeth Plank, Natascha Plum, Rudolf Polanszky, Franz Pomassl, Arnulf Rainer, Raionbashi / Krube., Konrad Rapf, Jason Rhodes, Paul-Julien Robert, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Dieter Roth, Fiona Rukschcio, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck, Alexander Ruthner, Gerhard Rühm, Kurt Ryslavy, Nino Sakandelidze, Georg Sallner, Ed Sanders, Markus Schinwald, Eva Schlegel, Conrad Schnitzler, Philipp Schöpke, Claudia Schumann, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Frederike Schweizer, Björn Segschneider, Jim Shaw & Benjamin Weissman, Jörg Siegert, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, Tamuna Sirbiladze, Linnéa Sjöberg, Dominik Steiger, Nino Stelzl, Curt Stenvert, Alexander Stern, Rudolf Stingel, Martina Stoian, Johannes Stoll, Ida Szigethy, Lilli Thießen, Bjarni H. Thórarinsson, Manfred Unger, Franz Vana, Jannis Varelas, Walter Vopava, Wolf Vostell, Klaus Weber, Peter Weibel, Lois Weinberger, Herwig Weiser, Wendy & Jim, Adam Wiener, Ingrid Wiener, Oswald Wiener, John Wiese, Judith Weratschnig, Stefan Wirnsperger, Eva Wohlgemuth, Helmut Wolech, Iwona Zaborowska, Thomas Zipp and Heimo Zobernig


21er Haus, Vienna

January 29 — May 25, 2014


Franz Graf is a thoroughly distinctive artist. He cannot be pigeonholed in any of the usual categories, and his works, indeed his oeuvre, cannot easily be described. He is neither a conceptual artist, painter prince, misunderstood genius, an artist of the state or of the market, nor even a critic of the institutions, and yet he has something of all these traits – and is always one step ahead when it comes to eluding all-too conventional structures and the classifications that go hand in hand with them.
After training under Oswald Oberhuber at the University of Applied Arts Vienna from the mid to late 1970s, he worked with Brigitte Kowanz until 1984 on the fringes of the Neo-Geo movement. In the following years, he evolved a visual language of his own, which, though extremely reduced, has sometimes been described as „expressive geometry“(1). Addressing the most fundamental element of drawing – a dark line on a pale ground – he developed a vocabulary that is essentially based on the juxtaposition of contrasts. Geometric forms and ornamental symbols dominate his works, which became increasingly corporeal towards the end of the 1980s. At the same time, he broadened his technical range, focusing more on the carrier materials such as tracing paper and on the installative integration of the work. He rolled back the classic boundaries of media and art: drawings became sculptures, sculptures became furnishings, furnishings became installations and installations, in turn, became spatial ornamentations. And amongst all this, painting also took on an increasingly important role. Graf is constantly expanding his field of action: curating, music, writing, events, and even teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna from 1997 to 2006.
This intermeshing of art and life is also reflected in his works. Franz Graf sets in motion a visual machine that devours everything that crosses its path. It is like a Machine Célibataire that drives the artist on to become a collector, archaeologist, documentarist, explorer and archivist, creating a world of his own through the synthesis of all his findings. They undergo a seemingly alchemistic process that orders things anew and melds the resulting structures into an idiosyncratic reality. In this universe, all things are one and exist side by side on equal terms, yet are also interwoven. A need for symmetry appears to underpin this cosmos, suggesting a pure and higher order in which moralistic, pecuniary and even worldly laws no longer hold sway. This world order is beyond good and evil and is subject to no ideals or hierarchies, following only the transcendental and the dualism of black and white.
Yet, for all of this, Graf remains true to drawing. Its reductionist form of portrayal permits abstraction in conjunction with depiction, which lends the drawings a certain autonomy from subject matter and signification alone. And this is precisely where Graf begins, using the natural patterns of perception – the instinctive quest for something recognisable – to alienate what we discern from our own reality, allowing it to disintegrate into strokes, lines and planes, as well as ideas and signs. The signifier becomes as visible as the signified and as signifying itself.
Franz Graf pursues this approach on a grand scale in his exhibition at 21er Haus. Processes of perception are unleashed, a cosmos formulated. „See what sees you“ is the motto of this show, which not only showcases Graf‘s works, but which also lays claim to presenting the current state of an artistic universe and putting it into context.
For his exhibition at 21er Haus, Graf dovetails the many aspects of his oeuvre in a new way, playing out his typical game with emptiness and fullness, black and white, delicate detail and iconic grandeur, archaic and modern. Specially created works can be seen here alongside older works, which he has placed together with works by contemporary artists both international and local, as well as pieces from the Belvedere collection and from his own private collection.
Some of his works are figurative. All are black and white, but some also abstract and ornamental. Some are based on circles, almost like mandalas or meditative objects. Others consist of combinations of letters that form fragments of words or quotes, the meaning of which can suddenly emerge, only to be lost from grasp just as quickly and form new meanings. Graf’s handling of letters echoes his handling of figurative subjects. His distinctly eclectic approach in combining elements lends them new form that emerges through his material poetry. The cultural technique of copy-and-paste is one of his stock stylistic devices – appropriation and alienation his accomplices, structure and repetition his accessories. Drawings, photographs, audio works, canvases, prints and everyday objects dovetail in Graf’s formation of open systems that are more akin to aesthetic spaces of experience than multimedia installations.
In the exhibition, eyes gaze at the viewers. Their unsettling gaze is at once seductive, coy, accusatory, fearful and profound. This is not about the eye of Big Brother, but about the image at eye level. Like mirrors, they reflect the gaze back upon the viewer with an intensity that makes seeing the theme in itself: triggering an awareness of our own ways of seeing and, consequently, of our perceptions and apperceptions.
But the title „See what sees you“ also implies reciprocity. It suggests that you can not only see, but be seen (and read) as well. The question this raises was indeed the starting point for the concept of this exhibition: is there a way of seeing that does not involve being distracted by the presentation of our own gaze and the ossification of representative gestures? Practical experience of exhibition openings tells us that there is no escaping this. Either we get used to the idea of coming back alone to have a look, or we try to act naturally and risk being distracted. For the exhibition, we decided to take that risk – by showing the work with all it entails and encompasses, rather than isolating and stylising it.
The framework for this is an architecture of elements normally used for scaffolding or stage construction. The display consists of carrier material that is quite literally used to visualise structures that would otherwise remain in the background. In this respect, there is a symbiosis between the presentation itself and the display of the construct of representation. The sum of the parts not only adds up to an exuberant exhibition in the main room of 21er Haus, but also creates a stage on which Franz Graf constantly expands his installation throughout the duration of the show, by repositioning and rehanging pieces, and with regular performances and collaborative art productions. Visitors thus step onto a stage on which, together with Graf, guest artists and inter-related works, they themselves become actors in a process of ongoing adaptation to an ever-changing situation. But is there more to it than simply being there? Can the exhibition break free from the patterns of representation and offer direct, sensory access to, or perhaps even allow entrance into, the world of Franz Graf? Blessed indeed are they that „have not seen, and yet have believed“(2).

(1) Donald Kuspit, in Franz Graf (exhibition catalogue, Galerie nächst St. Stephan, October 22 – November 26, 1988), Vienna 1988
(2) Gospel according to St John, 20:29

Published in Ausstellungsdetails