Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
Art concepts with a cow
Cows are grazing, computers are working and poetry is flowing through the ether – at least until the end of September. That’s how long the opening exhibition of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), an art initiative of Francesca von Habsburg, will be on at the former studio of the sculptor Ambrosi in the Augarten.
Agnes Husslein, director of the Belvedere Museum, has made the building designed by Georg Lippert – used in the 1950s by sculptor Gustinus Ambrois as a studio – available to TBA21 for a period of four years, which can be extended. In the future Habsburg, who established the TBA21 in Vienna ten years ago, would like to present a series featuring the positions of individual artists as well as to let various artistic projects engage in a dialogue with others.
Gate to the pastThe present exhibition features pieces by Turner prize-winner Simon Starling and the Danish group Superflex. Both seek to create a bridge with the past in their works. Whereas Starling does this by means of objects, stories and ideas of modernism, which he reinterprets and re-contextualises for his purposes, the Superflex group undertakes a detective’s search for traces relating to the creation of Ambrosi’s sculpture Jungfrau mit Kuh (Virgin with cow) – a piece the sculptor was commissioned to do by the Nazi’s preferred architect Albert Speer.
In an attempt to find the perfect model, Ambrosi embarked upon a kind of casting tour through Kitzbühel where he finally found his ideal model in a cow named Königin (empress). While there are no traces at all left of the model of the virgin, there are a number of documents regarding the cow dating from Ambrosi’s time. For instance, when Ambrosi tried, during the chaos of the war years, to get financial support for the cow by appealing to the highest authorities, trying to save it from being slaughtered in an emergency situation. After getting access to such information, the artist collective Superflex looked for the progeny of the venerated cow and transported the offspring Hektor and Rita to the lawn in front of the sculptor’s former studio – with the cows serving as a living gate to the artist’s dubious past. With this it is once again proven that the craziest stories are always written by life.
Making something new out of something old and changing the meaning in the processBy contrast, there is a story that seems to have appealed to American artist Simon Starling, namely that of the building Manik Bagh serving as the Indian residence designed by German architect Eckhart Muthesius. In this piece consisting of photographs and sculptures Starling weaves together the creation and architecture of the building with events related to the wedding and a script by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbour for the film Das indische Grabmahl (the Indian tomb), demonstrating that our image of history is always made up of various different factors. A piece by Sterling referring to the first computer proves less complex but all the more striking. Pioneer spirit meets with the latest technological innovations when Starling uses digital animation to reconstruct the working activities of the machine and then transfers these shots to a reel of film that runs through a projector that projects it onto a wall.
A segment of a roof – originally part of the Lycée Blaise Pascal in Orsey – that was transformed into a car awaits the visitors in the piece Road Tests. Starling subjected the roof-car-construction to a sort of high-velocity test at the Dobersberg airstrip, thus questioning the relation between a functional object and a museum object. The project is indebted to Starling’s approach, in which he tests functional and design objects of the past to explore their use for today and to give them a new function. The artist applied a similar principle with Poul Henningsen’s blackout lamps, which were designed for Tivoli, a leisure park constructed in Copenhagen in 1942. These functional wartime lamps were given a different function and turned into art objects through their presence in the exhibition. As ceiling lighting they accompanied the visitor while walking through the long exhibition hall. Throughout this stroll the visitor was, however, expected to carefully read the wall texts, since the concepts on which the pieces is based would otherwise remain forever hidden to the visitor.
By contrast, the stage designed by David Adjaye appears in a summery light in a garden where literary performances will take place every Friday.
Simon Starling / Superflex
Reprototypes, Triangulations and Testing Procedures
30 May to 23 September 2012
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary – Augarten
Opening hours: daily 11:00 to 19:00; Fridays 11:00 to 22:00
Admission: 5 euro / concessions 3 euro
The Superflex project will be accompanied by a brochure in which historian Oliver Rathkolb examines the history associated with the Ambrosi cow as well as the artist’s seemingly Machiavellian past!