One of the most comprehensive solo exhibitions on Oswald Oberhuber to date
From 9th March to 26th June 2016 the 21er Haus is host to one of the most comprehensive exhibitions there has ever been on Oswald Oberhuber (b. 1931), a pivotal representative of Austrian art. The display includes work ranging from the late 1940s to the present day, which reflects the wide variety of media he has used and comprises key pieces from all of his creative periods: from informal sculptures and paintings, collages, assemblages to language and number pictures, large fabric works and drawings, a constant presence throughout his oeuvre.
“One shouldn’t develop a style; actually, every picture should be new. At some point, you get into a routine and know how things will turn out. As soon as I feel like that, I’m bored,” says Oswald Oberhuber of his principle of “permanent change”, which has had a formative influence not only on his artistic practice, but also on his roles as an exhibition organizer, gallery owner, professor and rector at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
“Despite the tremendous number of exhibitions of his art both in Austria and abroad, these have not yet included a retrospective focus on Oberhuber’s creative work. That is why it was of great personal importance to me to host a solo exhibition on Oswald Oberhuber at the 21er Haus. Curated by Luisa Ziaja and Alfred Weidinger together with the artist, the exhibition presents a broad spectrum of his oeuvre, comprising some 300 artworks divided into 13 chapters. With this show, we hope to have stopped a considerable gap and to have laid the foundation for a far deeper exploration of his creative work,” says Agnes Husslein-Arco, Director of the Belvedere and the 21er Haus, to explain the motivation behind the show.
Oswald Oberhuber’s work represents permanent change and hence a radical break with the idea of a homogeneous, stylistically consistent oeuvre – he is, as it were, a postmodern artist avant la lettre. This is reflected in the diversity of the exhibition. “Simultaneously”, say the curators Luisa Ziaja and Alfred Weidinger, “throughout the diverse range of styles, media, materials and techniques used, ultimately Oswald Oberhuber is always visible. His approach to form and colour, his focus on the line, is a common theme that runs throughout his work and is made strikingly apparent in the way the works are positioned opposite and alongside each other in this exhibition. Based on an idea by Oberhuber himself, the exhibition architecture for the 21er Haus and its interplay with the artworks on display facilitates precisely that: surprising moments between reorientation and continuity.”
Pioneer of informal art in Austria
Oswald Oberhuber initially learnt sculpture at the federal vocational school in Innsbruck. At barely twenty years old, he developed an entirely independent artistic approach to French post-war art, particularly Tachisme and the informal in the media of drawing, painting and sculpture. This non-figurative art – also called Lyrical Abstraction – aspires to completely dissolve form by means of a spontaneous, subconscious creative process. Not only is Oberhuber one of the first informal artists in Austria, but rather by translating these principles from painting into his concept of “informal sculpture” he also made a unique contribution in an international context. These works are mostly realized as three-dimensional spatial drawings made of plaster, wire and other fragile materials. They contrast radically with the then canonical vocabulary of modernism in general and post-cubist sculpture in particular. In the mid-1950s, at the height of the informal, Oberhuber brought this phase to a close, started working realistically and took the first of a great number of artistic leaps, which would define his work from this moment on.
Oberhuber followed this pattern of surprising new beginnings – a testament to his open and agile mind – with great consistency. Referring to Leon Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution”, he set forth his Principle of Permanent Change in Art in 1956. Always evading definition and categorization, unaffected by reservations, Oberhuber explores a wide range of artistic movements, discovers and devises, experiments and assimilates, to exhaust each potential before moving on to the next new thing. His anti-heroic approach to art manifests itself in his constant questioning of his own method as well as the parameters of the artistic production of meaning and the concept of work and author, which repeatedly begin to unravel.
Across the 454 pages of the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Oswald Oberhuber is interviewed by the curators about all of his phases of artistic production and the subjects of his creative work: from his artistic beginnings and his informal works to his return to figuration, his portraits and self-portraits, language and number pictures, collages and assemblages, his contribution to the Venice Biennale in 1972, his fashion designs and wooden sculptures of the 1980s to his paintings and drawings of recent decades.
This solo exhibition will be accompanied by (curator-) guided tours of the exhibition, screenings at the Blickle Kino of Erwin Wagenhofer’s documentary Das Fragmentarische in der Kunst [The fragmentary in art] (1988) about Oswald Oberhuber, a wide-ranging schools programme as well as the Masterworks and Tea Towels workshops for children.
On 24th April Oswald Oberhuber himself will give a talk. On 18th May Robert Fleck, Professor at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, will speak about Oberhuber’s artistic vision in the context of his cultural and political activities. To mark the exhibition, the sculpture Hand und Traube [Hand and grape], one of several generous endowments by the artist to the contemporary art collection of the Belvedere, has been installed in the Sculpture Garden of the 21er Haus.