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Indepth Arts News:

"A Baroque Party"
2001-06-12 until 2001-09-01
Kunsthalle Wien, Museumsquartier
Wien, , AT Austria

The Baroque is omnipresent in Vienna, whether it is in churches, public spaces and museum collections, in the Baroque festive culture, or in Vienna art historiography in the tradition of Alois Riegl or Julius von Schlosser who once brought the Baroque to the point. In the first exhibition shown in its new large exhibition hall in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier – a cultural ensemble characteristically defined by J. B. Fischer von Erlach’s Baroque architecture –, the Kunsthalle Wien will demonstrate that the 17th century has not only survived in historical facades, but also plays a special role in contemporary art.

Modernity and, in particular, contemporary art, takes up on aesthetic concepts from the Baroque period rather than the 19th-century idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, say exhibition curators Sabine Folie and Michael Glasmeier. For the exhibition, contemporary artists from different generations were invited to present completed or yet-to-be-completed works, not just to illustrate Baroque as an exhibition theme, but rather to reveal attitudes that are congenial with Baroque notions of art.

Dinos and Jake Chapman, Wim Delvoye, Ulrike Grossarth, Yvonne Rainer, Sam Taylor-Wood and Paul Thek throw a bridge between Baroque ideas and concepts and art-making positions of today. Dichotomies that are characteristic of the Baroque period can be found again in the exhibition which vacillates between allegory and realism, festivity and vanitas, eroticism and religion, between sacred and profane, represented by theatrical, rhetorical and illusionist artifice.

Though the individual positions do, of course, stand in their own right, they can also be read in terms of a quasi-Baroque vocabulary, for example, when the American artist Paul Thek celebrates rites of passage or initiation in his liturgies, rituals, ‘Technological Reliquaries’ or ‘Processions’, or when Yvonne Rainer as a dancer, choreographer and filmmaker stages a complete theatrum mundi as a complex system of rhetorical techniques: collage, masquerade, slapstick, flashbacks alternate with textual inserts and commenting narration by the author (the Baroque choir). Sam Taylor-Wood shows panoramic rooms in which she enacts allegorical narrations: vulnerable, diseased, desiring, and ambivalent bodies appear on the stage of the world to play their assigned roles. Ulrike Grossarth, in her narrative imagery reminiscent of Baroque emblems, works on a dream of infinity in a Leibnizean Sense: space as a Monad with objects between amorphous experimental setup and art and mirabilia chamber. The Baroque idea to see the human body as a machine finds new expression (Descartes) in Wim Delvoyes CLOACA (2000) and gains shape as an active 12-meter digestive tract that produces the inevitable results. Finally, Dinos and Jake Chapman point to the shady side of the feast of life: the danse macabre, the horror.

A Baroque Party takes up on an number of other Kunsthalle undertakings such as Faith, Love, Hope, Death (1995), Surfaces. On Appearance in Art and Fashion (1998), Rodney Graham (1999), or Samuel Beckett/Bruce Nauman (2000), which also addressed the idea of putting cultural-historical, iconographic and literary phenomena of modernity in a synoptic view.

Exhibition Catalogue: with texts by Svetlana Alpers, Christian Bertram, Peter Bexte, Horst Bredekamp, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Brigitte Felderer, Sabine Folie, Michael Glasmeier, Ulrike Grossarth, Andreas Kreul, Doris Krystof, Mara Mattuschka, Peggy Phelan, Yvonne Rainer, Ann Wilson, Johannes Zahlten; text ectracts from Medea by Pierre Corneille and Julius von Schlosser

Paul Thek,
Chair, 1968,
Wood, Wax, Bird, Pigment;
Courtesy Erzdiözesanmuseum Köln,
Photo: Lothar Schnepf

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