Guest Chef September 2021
The theme of the works exhibited at the "Over the Rainbow" exhibition is nature, and the diversity of the landscape in which mankind is integrated. The contextual framework of the exhibition is mirrored by archetypal motifs representing that which is seen, moods, incidences of light, or perhaps a plant in full bloom. The exhibition unites internationally renowned artists from France, South Africa, Iceland and Austria, most of whose works have not yet been shown in Austria. The focus lies on painting, which captures the poetic and lyrical aspects of reality more fittingly than any other medium. But how does this dialogue unfold when painting relates thematically to nature, when it employs elements from its world of forms, or endeavours to pursue them? Does it depict nature, or has the artist attempted to translate the essence of nature into colour with their individual language of form, in order to interpret it and, above all, to set a contextual focus? The pictures in the exhibition reflect various possibilities, ranging from explorations of the formal artistic possibilities to setting thematic priorities that expand the viewer's field of association.
"Life is imprisoned by its representation", which reveals nothing of the "true truth". "Life is vibrant and impatient; it wants to break out of the box", as Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi aptly wrote in his novel "It's Getting Later All the Time". The perception of objects, situations or sensory impressions that suddenly appear and reference nothing but themselves sometimes give the observer the feeling of having encountered the essence of life, its very foundation. The challenge of transforming these ideas into a picture has always been part of the creative artistic process.
But how does one represent an elementary experience in art?
The paintings present the motifs in a manner that transcends a literary or documentary point of view; they translate them into a naturalistic pictorial repertoire of forms in which the immanent parameters of the medium are clearly in evidence. The motif becomes a starting point for artistic processes. The perception of nature and life occurs both before and in parallel to shaping the work of art, but without degenerating into a depiction that is banal or even romantic. The dialogue between the narrative and the sensuousness of the artists' materials is always exciting. Painting has always tried to answer the question as to whether nature and art are contradictory. "Why", asks Umberto Eco in "The Open Work" (1977), "should we even bother with a painting, which is far inferior to real sand and the infinity of natural material that is at our disposal? But Eco goes on to say that art is able to organise the raw material of nature, thus creating an awareness and sensitivity for those areas that are overlooked by the alacrity of our everyday perception. Art offers a special opportunity to portray a grasp of the non-describable, or rather an inkling of life's inner connections, both sensually and visually. From this perspective, painting forms an extraordinary interface and becomes a visual aid for the many positive and negative aspects of reality.
The title of the exhibition references one of the world's most famous songs, "Over the Rainbow", which was composed in 1939 for the American musical "The Wizard of Oz" by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. The film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy, who travels through the fantastic world of Oz only to realise that the most beautiful place is her home. Mankind has always depicted its fantasies of faraway lands and imagined dream landscapes. The discovery of these lands was and remains a delicate balance between possessive appropriation and an approach that is attentive and mindful. The popular interpretation of "Over the Rainbow" by musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole also represents an appeal to preserve the original landscape and culture of Hawaii. The song subsequently became the first hymn of the queer movement. Louis Armstrong's song "What a Wonderful World" still evokes the beauty of our world today, and invites us to become aware of it. Both these songs were released on the eve of great political upheavals: "Over the Rainbow" in 1939, and "What a Wonderful World" in 1968 – hardly by chance.
Art can make a decisive contribution to our awareness of the explosive nature of present issues such as climate change, migration, loss of biodiversity and loss of a home country, as expressed in the pictures of the artists in the exhibition who now live in the African diaspora. Painting always vacillates between addressing the political and social subjects of the day and placing artistic self-referentiality in the foreground. The translation of perceived reality into the medium of painting also enables a certain distance to be maintained in order to grasp and reflect upon the complexity of what is seen. Is it still possible today, as sociologist Georg Simmel postulated in his collection of essays "The Philosophy of Art", published posthumously in 1922, that a work of art is whole in itself and does not require a relationship to an external world – and how does this relate to the seemingly contradictory aspirations of the artist? Interestingly, in contemporary art, this question forms part of a media-immanent debate, also precisely in order to emphasise the autonomy of painting or to speak of its own nature, regardless of whether it concerns figurative painting or a purely abstract pictorial concept, although this distinction is considered obsolete by many artists. The exhibited works are thus also situated in a field of tension between approximations of real landscapes, examinations of personal biographies and the perception of political and social realities, and a purely autonomous pictorial concept in which nature is portrayed on canvas by means of purely form-associated relationships.
In 2002, Heinrich Heil confronted the painter Markus Lüpertz with Nietzsche's question of how far this reached into the inner essence of the world. He replied:
"Art is the inner essence of the world, incorporating it in a special way that originates in the mysterious and receives its inspiration from there. (...) It is art that makes the world visible to us in the first place; that is the seductive thing about it and the crux of its presence, and painting is one of the few great pillars where the understanding of life resides." - Markus Lüpertz in conversation with Heinrich Heil. (Giving Art Rules, Zurich 2005).
August 01 2020– September 14 2020