Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, Germany
The varied, genre-spanning work of Heimo Zobernig (*1958 in Mauthen, Austria) attests to his sober, critical as well as experimental and humorous approach. The artist, who lives in Vienna, works in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, design, video and performance. The exhibition at the kestnergesellschaft focuses on key works from his sculptural oeuvre since the early 1980s as well as his recent abstract paintings.
Tables, pedestals, shelves, a bench, a desk, variations on a bar—many of Zobernig’s sculptures originate in the applied arts. They are often made of cheap materials, including pressboard, MDF, dispersion paint, cardboard and styrofoam. Their simple, geometric shapes and standardized elements contribute to the usually sober, pragmatic impression of Zobernig’s works. His sculptures, which are presented in chronological order in the exhibition, often point to earlier contexts of presentation, internal connections within his work and the act of presentation itself. For example, untitled (1997) attests to its earlier use as an information desk at Documenta X in Kassel. Separated from their original context, the unimposing, sculptural forms of Zobernig’s works open up an endless variety of new possibilities of aesthetic experience and interpretation, whether as art-historical commentary, self-sufficient objects or in their relationship to the human body. By exploring the boundaries between utility objects and autonomous works, these pieces continually ask how they can be art and be experienced as art.
In addition to his sculptures, in his mostly square paintings Zobernig examines the possibilities of fundamental elements of abstract painting: the monochrome color palette, the grid and the gesture. While the grid as a rational schema has long been a central focus of Zobernig’s interest, only recently has a gestural vocabulary made an appearance in his paintings. He combines grids with complex arrangements of freely drawn lines, amorphous structures and apparently random smudges of paint.
What at first appears to be the result of spontaneous actions takes shape in a controlled process in which the composition is determined from the beginning. Contrasting layers of paint and various phases of production are combined, and the relationships between figure and background, top and bottom, as well as space and surface are destabilized. Like the sculptures, his paintings become elements of an open, encyclopedic “Zobernig system” that transcends the boundaries of genre and is left open to any number of interpretations.
The exhibition was conceived in cooperation with MUDAM Luxembourg as an overview of Zobernig’s work in two chapters. While the sculptures are featured in both exhibitions, this summer MUDAM presented a chronological retrospective of Zobernig’s monochrome paintings. A monochrome painting from 2013 connects the two groups of paintings: it was the most recent painting shown at MUDAM and is the oldest on display at the kestnergesellschaft in Hanover.