Excursion tip Krems
On the road – driven by subversion and in good company
Who was Francis Picabia? This is a question that the Kunsthalle Krems will still be wrestling with until early November. But is this really true? Anyone expecting to get a clear answer from the exhibition is certainly in the wrong place. Those who want to know how an artist succeeded in evading all labels to become the pioneer of a new age have found the right place in this large-scale retrospective.
Impressionism, fauvism, cubism, Dadaism, hyperrealism and – who would have expected this? – Pop Art: apparently there is hardly any art movement of the 20th century that the painter and poet Francis Picabia did not experiment with or shape in a significant way. He didn’t stick to any of them for very long and so later generations have promptly declared him a pioneer of postmodernism. But before we get that far, let’s take things one step at a time.
A master of subversive ironyPicabia, the unconventional thinker who ran up against all sorts of dogmas and hierarchies throughout his whole life, was born on January 22, 1879 as the son of an attaché at the Cuban embassy and a French woman in Paris. After receiving first recognition as an impressionist painter he was soon bored and turned to divisionism and fauvist landscape painting. This was a fairly short phase in his artistic career and before long he began experimenting with semi-cubist landscapes, out of which a series of mechanomorphic works emerged. He freed these machine paintings from their technological and scientific setting and transformed them into abstract, often even erotic objects under the influence of Marcel Duchamp, the ‘father’ of the readymade. The two artists maintained a lifelong friendship.
Surrealist André Breton was yet another one of Picabia’s famous companions. And even though many of his works – most notably his Transparences – were shown in the exhibitions of the Surrealists, Picabia’s relation to the Surrealists remained a distant one.
He had also quickly distanced himself from Dadaism which he had given his distinct mark in the early years. During the heyday of Dadaism he noted the following in the journal “Comoedia”: “I am increasingly bored by my colleagues, some because they believe to have become important figures, and others because of their insignificance, their impudence or idiocy.”
These were not the last verbal blows that the master of subversive irony dealt to the world around him. He again and again offended art critics and people from the high society - the latter in particular with his so-called Monster Paintings in which he caricatured the superficiality and affectedness of the bourgeoisie even though he himself moved in their circles. He upset the critics, since in the time when critics were raving about abstraction, he began to paint Spanish women in their traditional dress, influenced as he was by icon painting.
Pioneer workIt wasn’t the last time that a woman served as a model. In his later years he began making hyper-photographic paintings, using women from erotic and trivial journals as models. For a long time these pictures were seen as kitsch by critics or were even disparaged as Nazi-style heroic painting. It was only later generations of artists such as Sigmar Polke or Martin Kippenberger who recognized the subversive element that these works reflected in the way various elements were combined anew. Thanks to them the artist was seen in a new light again, which let Picabia become a pioneer of postmodernism.
According to exhibition curator Hans-Peter Wipplinger, this was not the only revolutionary act of this artist who has proven to be so difficult to pin down in art historical terms. He ushered in Pop Art with his snippets, on which he drew objects and added the price tag, long before Andy Warhol brought it to the fore.
Why the head is roundAbout 180 exhibition pieces are being presented to the public. These works were brought together under great effort from fifty different institutions and private collections. One single painting comes from an Austrian museum. Up until now Picabia seems to have passed Austria by, leaving hardly a trace. This is something that the organizers of this exhibition have sought to remedy with this Picabia retrospective which is comprehensive even by European standards. Whether Pop Art cutups, female nudes, sketches for journals or the abstract dot paintings of his late period of production, the Kunsthalle Krems is showing a little bit of everything. Picabia’s literary work, however, is a bit neglected. Precisely this aspect of his oeuvre could have been better integrated in the show as part of an interdisciplinary interplay. To make up for this, the viewers will be able to see Picabia’s and Rene Clair’s 20-minute Dadaist silent film `Entr´acte´. In sum the show provides a quite interesting glimpse of the work of one of the 20th century’s most many-sided artists who once described himself as anti-artist and monster and is credited with having said: “Our head is round so that thinking can change direction.” As for his art – so much at least can be said after visiting the exhibition – he kept his word here.
What else is happening in Krems
An interesting mix awaits those visitors who have a little bit more time to stop by the Forum Frohner and the Karikaturmuseum. While in the first venue, the visitor is submerged in smoke, a blue haze, in the second exhibition the visitor can follow the development of one of the most interesting German children’s book authors. The inventor of tiger duck and bear is, however, much more than just a writer for children. The Karikarturmuseum is also showing the writer’s works for adults in addition to the 150 pictures. Now that alone is worth seeing. In a humorous way, the artist and author addresses themes such as sexuality, religion, childhood and love. However, if you are interested in the act of smoking, you should make a point of stopping by the Forum Frohner. The exhibition that is dedicated to theme of smoking in art is not just interesting for friends of tobacco consumption. In addition to paintings of smokers – from Kolo Moser via Helmut Newton to Kiki Kogelnik and Otto Mühl – the visitors will also have a chance to admire precious meerschaum pipes, cigar cutters and cases.
The Austrian artist Elmar Trenkwalder will be presenting some enormous sculptures in the large mail hall of the Kunsthalle. His often bizarre-looking painted clay constructions resemble imaginary architecture from distant civilizations. It is also worth making a brief stop at the Factory where Svenja Deininger will be showing her minimalist, abstract pieces.
Francis Picabia. Retrospektive
15 July to 4 November 2012
Franz-Zeller Platz 3
3500 Krems an der Donau
Tel.: +43 2732 908010
Opening hours: daily 10am-6pm
Elmar Trenkwalder. Ornament und Obsession
15 July to 14 October 2012
15 July to 30 September 2012
Kunsthalle Krems Factory
Im blauen Dunst
Tobacco in art
Until 30 September 2012
Opening hours: Daily 11am-5pm
Janosch. Tiger, Ente, Bär & mehr
Until 15 November 2012
Steiner Landstraße 3a
How to get there by train and ship: