Jörg Scheller

From accumulation to nucleus

The "Right to Vagueness" belongs to the privileges of contemporary art. Whereas (post) industrial production becomes ever more precise and meticulous, art reserves its right to associate on spacious levels and keep things in a state of flux. Even and especially as a dilettante, art gets involved and leaves room to the small micro-stories located beyond the new great stories about globally moved goods, data, people.

LE NOUVEAU VAGUE takes this statement as its starting point to develop an exhibition as an organic, widely ramified rhizomatic network. Instead of illustrating stories with works of art, LE NOUVEAU VAGUE follows the stories that (could) develop from works of art - in this case a concrete art collection - loosely according to the principle: art depicts art, not the world. Imaging, however, never creates pure depictions but rather variations as it takes place in concrete situations. The principle of depicting variation and variational depiction forms the exhibition's recurrent theme.

LE NOUVEAU VAGUE's nucleus is made up of a collection of graphic works from the 1960s and 1970s by among others Günter Fruhtrunk, Max Bill and Otto Herbert Hajek. All of the graphic works originate from the private fund of the former Stans-based framer Karl Meder. After completing his apprenticeship as a glazier in Basel, Switzerland, Meder became framer and gilder and searched for a suitable location for this form of trade. He founded a workshop in Lucerne. As the demand for serigraphs and lithographs during the 1960s and 1970s was increasing, Meder developed solutions to customise the technique as well as aesthetics of the frames according to the new requirements. He accomplished a financial breakthrough with his patent for clip-on picture frames - allowing him to set up his own factory in Stans. He sporadically ran another shop in Lucerne where he sold frames and prints, which unfortunately had to be closed after a few years due to family problems. The leftover serigraphs, lithographs and etchings were brought to Stans. As his collection also does not bear any distinct stylistic or thematic focus, Meder prefers to call it "accumulation". Nonetheless it is evidence of a keen sense of the decisive tendencies at the time as it mainly comprises works by artists who are still well known today: aside from the ones mentioned above there are works by Max Ackermann, Johannes Gachnang, Antonio Calderara, Dieter Roth and Max von Moos - all of these represented with graphic works in small format in LE NOUVEAU VAGUE.

As the artists "accumulated" by Meder are mainly characterised by formal precision and reductionism, LE NOUVEAU VAGUE questions the current heirs of these aesthetics and highlights their afterlife under altered conditions. The exhibition - extending over all floors of the Villa Floreal in Cadegliano - confronts Meder's accumulation with works by the artists Ferdinand Arnold, Lisa Biedlingmaier, Burkard Blümlein, Alexander Györfi, Steffen Kugel, Pia Maria Martin, Katja Schicht, Robert Steng, Klaus-Martin Treder and Ute Zeller von Heubach. The presentation is designed like a hunt for traces without any forced burden of proof: where can transformations and reinterpretations of formalism's self-referential be found - probably just as vague memories, hints, notions? Where do dialogues between the "new" and the "old" derive from - with the involved discussion partners not even aware of it? Which artists on the other hand refer directly to the aesthetics that LE NOUVEAU VAGUE is based on - without implicitly paying homage to it? Where do personal narratives mix with the narratives of art history? In short: to what extent can we interpret the accumulation as a nucleus of a proliferating network of "blurry thoughts" (Beat Wyss) that constantly keep clashing with the "hard edges" of precision?

In some respect, LE NOUVEAU VAGUE's exhibition location - the Villa Floreal - reflects the private creational context of Meder's accumulation. Again, the works are not exhibited at a neutral White Cube but at a private location, where they form a broad range of interrelations with already "taken" topographies. Here, the Villa takes on a similar meaning as the former summer residence of writer Federico García Lorca, where Hans Ulrich Obrist designed the concept for the "Everstill" exhibition of contemporary artists in 2008. It's especially in exhibition locations originally not designed for exhibitions where art develops a life of its own, where it creates a caesura in already spatiotemporally marked structures. Thus, a productive tense relation evolves between the modernist credo "Independent of Time and Place" - perceptible in many of Meder's pieces of his collection - and the memorial space of the Villa Floreal. The artists put their works in a dialogue with Meder's accumulation on the one hand and on the other with the location. The artist Antonio Calderara (1903-1978) also lived and worked in the Cadegliano region which he made his favoured, although highly abstracted, subject. With a spartan gesture Alexander Györfi refers to Calderara. He puts a narrow horizontal band made of transparent foil across the window front and additionally expands Calderara's concept of "Spazio, colore, luce" with acoustical aspects such as musical recordings on dub plates combined with collages of album covers.

This form of "vague" reference is significant as the exhibition is dominated by links, ties and entanglements that can neither be attributed to a clearly defined style nor a school or a coherent discourse. Ferdinand Arnold's coloured fields for instance don't emanate from a conceptual but an individual examination of the nature and impact of painting. Arnold does not join a historic-philosophic context - nor do the explosive coloured rooms by painter Steffen Kugel. He writes about himself and his work: "true art as my boredom's imagination; my idle thought, whose ripeness on grounds of futility invites abuse by worms in search for meaning. Our appetite shall become insatiable; we must throw greed. Greed in need of such idle thoughts' knowledge. Thus we - in full bloom of this boredom - crown utopian pastime as true art."

It seems that the recourse to the formalistic heritage becomes most apparent in austere geometrical graphic arts like the ones by Györfi. However, confronted with for instance Pia Maria Martin's film »XI« a certain anxiety is gaining ground as Martin's forms, seemingly abstract at first, continuously evoke threatening mental states and assemble to become emotional spaces. These encounters and ripostes make LE NOUVEAU VAGUE a kaleidoscope of such forms which on the one hand constantly surpass themselves and on the other retreat deeply into their shell.

The implied double movement also becomes apparent in the encounter between Burkhard Blümlein and Lisa Biedlingmaier. In a serigraphic procedure for LE NOUVEAU VAGUE, the latter printed fabrics with two ostensibly ornamental elements - rhyton and rose - forming a repetitive geometrical pattern. Yet the background behind it is that rhyton and rose are two typical Georgian objects or respectively symbols which form a phallus on the drapery - a symbol of power. Here, the artist refers to the so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia that started peaceful and ended in power quarrels. Blümlein, on the other hand displays framed woollen blankets with abstract patterns from the 1950s and 1960s. With this combination of trivial basic commodity and quotes of the geometrical abstraction, he points to something that could be called "democratisation of abstraction": the balancing act between art for the White Cube and art for the masses; between applied and free art, which among others Max Bill strived for. Robert Steng operates a similar lever: he shows a table board from a former shared flat of artists which in the context of this exhibition no longer appears as "stuff" (to speak with Heidegger) but reveals its self-referential, formally aesthetic qualities. Furthermore, Blümlein assembles heterogeneous artefacts and biofacts on a shelve at the Villa Floreal to create a wunderkammer in miniature and thus indirectly ties in with the exhibition's title: "Kritische Inventur im Zwischenlager. Drunter und Drüber. Geschichten. Erfundene Erinnerungen" ("Critical inventory at the intermediate storage space. Over and under. Stories. Made up memories") (Blümlein). The wunderkammer is a hybrid of taxonomical will to order and 'wild thinking'. It reflects an associated, tentative, rhizomatic network of old and new aspired by LE NOUVEAU VAGUE.

The painter Katja Schicht dedicates herself to a related topic, however, she transfers the relation between old and new to her own family's situation. On a display of a digital picture frame Schicht shows details from paintings created by her mother Elisabeth Dorothée Dutoit in the 1960s and 1970s, i.e. during the same phase in which Meder's accumulation came into existence. Dutoit's pictures seem to anticipate the paintings by Schicht ­- which are also exhibited - as she, like her mother, uses landscapes as an outline which is subsequently varied and abstracted. Schicht's mother gave up painting abruptly at a certain point in her life. Her daughter resumes it in a similar manner today as do many contemporary abstract painters when administering the formalistic heritage: reference is deprivation - both at the same time. The painter Ute Zeller von Heubach directly seizes the thought mentioned at the beginning - art imitates art, art emanates from art. She observed a painting in the Villa's staircase in various light situations and reproduced it over and over again. The fact that depiction creates variation and that a solipsistic monologue can create dialogic effects is illustrated by the re-created "depicted" pictures in the literal sense.

LE NOUVEAU VAGUE emphasises that the only true aesthetics in postmodernism have become obsolete and that there is no indication of any change of this state in the already declared post-postmodernism. As Hans Belting wrote: art has entered the concurrent age, where a linear course of history has become invalid but instead the polyphony of petits récits sets the tone. On this note, LE NOUVEAU VAGUE's spatially convoluted, dissected and scattered presentation of individual, unconventional, quirky and private micro-stories mentioned in the beginning, the commentaries about and allusions to the past, which keep a subjective distance especially in encounters - is probably emphasised on the most significant level by Klaus-Martin Treder, who placed a neon installation in front of a mythological ceiling fresco of the Villa and thus keeps the gap between today and tomorrow, between heritage and heirs open while at the same time - in the literal sense - 'illuminating' it.