Brigitte Kowanz – Erwin Wurm in the Austrian pavilion
The pavilion of Austria brings together two of its internationally successful artists: Brigitte Kowanz and Erwin Wurm. Both artists operate at the intersection between sculpture and architecture, but their work is quite different from each other. The combination of light (Kowanz) and sculptures (Wurm) will transform the pavilion in a compelling place.
Brigitte Kowanz makes light objects, light installations, light spaces and light architecture. She redefines the public space with her light installations and mirrors, thereby creating a new and three-dimensional space for the visitor. She also refers to language and the complexity of communication by adding words and characters to the lights. The words expand the personal thinking space, whereas the mirrors expand the public exhibition space. Deconstructing, multiplying and separating the characters, she analyses the play of language as a cultural and social game.
Erwin Wurm creates sculpture performances, sculpture installations, spatial sculptures and architecture sculptures. Even though his large sculptures might seem playful at first sight, they are often a basis for reflection on sociocultural and socially relevant questions. At the Venice Art Biennale 2011 for instance, his installation ‘Narrow House’ at the Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti referred to the lack of space in a lower middle class family. Wurm also likes to transcend the boundaries between object and performance, sculpture and photography, between artist and audience. A good example are his One Minute Sculptures, in which he asks people to take an unusual position with an everyday object. They would only be able to hold for a short period of time, just enough for him to take a picture.
Brigitte Kowanz was born in 1957 in Vienna. She is a Professor for Transmedia Art at the University of Applied Arts Vienna since 1997. She received the Grand Austrian State Prize for her extraordinary work and had numerous solo and group exhibitions in Austria and abroad.
Since the 1980s, her work has centred on light as an artistic medium that she investigates in relation to space and in combination with signs, codes and language. In her virtual spaces, Kowanz also confronts the viewer with current socio-political issues. In one of her latest pieces, ‘Maastricht 07.02.92 01.11.93’ (2016), she formulates her concern about the breakdown of the European Union. Brigitte Kowanz’s art is conceptual poetry. To her, light as the origin of all life is information, the shaping of space-time.
“Venice is really a unique city for me and I love it very much to visit this amazing place. I feel very strongly connected to this wonderful seaside town, which is itself a work of art and an exhibition especially during La Biennale di Venezia. I am very glad to have the opportunity to present my artistic work here at this extraordinary location and I am excited to see the reactions of the visitors coming to the Austrian Pavilion.“
Erwin Wurm was born in 1954 in Bruck/Mur. He received the Grand Austrian State Prize for his extraordinary work and had numerous solo and group exhibitions in Austria and abroad.
With his sculptures, Erwin Wurm makes a globally acknowledged autonomous contribution to an international trend: sculpture as a form of action. By consistently expanding the concept of sculpture, Erwin Wurm demonstrates that he can find an answer to the moods and social conditions of our time in an intrinsically artistic manner – sometimes sublime, often philosophical – in images and objects. Wurm’s concept of sculpture, that revolves around a wide range of materials and media, makes explicit reference to the traditions of the ‘Neo-Avantgarde’, in which provocation and venture always played a role.
“Venice is still standing! It’s almost unbelievable.”
The pavilion of Austria is located in the second part of Giardini, behind the small bridge across the Rio del Giardini. Austria already intended to build its own pavilion in the public gardens of Castello in 1910. It took however until 1934 before the Austrian Pavilion, designed by the architects Josef Hoffmann and Robert Kramreiter, was officially inaugurated. After Austria’s Anschluss with Germany in 1938, the Austrian Pavilion was offered for sale and temporarily used as storage space for Italian film productions of Cinecittà. In the meantime, the Austrian artists exhibited their works in the German Pavilion. It was only in 1948 when the Biennale resumed after World War II that Austria returned to its own national pavilion. Its Sculpture Courtyard, at the back of the building, was enlarged in 1954. In 1984, exactly 50 years after its construction, the pavilion was completely renovated under Hans Hollein who gently restored the building to its original state.
Viva Arte Viva
Erwin Wurm will participate in the ‘Tavola Aperta’ (Open Table) project where artists and visitors will have a casual lunch together to discuss the artist’s work. You can attend this lunch on June 7, next to the central pavilion in Giardini. Reservations are required.
Austria will also be represented at the ‘Viva Arte Viva exhibition’ of Christine Macel by Franz West. He began making drawings around 1970 before moving on to painted collages incorporating magazine images that showed the influence of Pop Art. His artwork is typically made out of plaster, papier-mâché, wire, polyester, aluminium and other, ordinary materials. Some of his ‘Lemurenköpfe’ were on display at the Accrochage exhibition at Punta della Dogana in 2016. Franz West received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the award ceremony of the Art Biennale 2017.
Review by The Venice Insider
The Austrian pavilion is without any doubt the most interactive pavilion of this Art Biennale. It allows you to become part of the art or even an artist-to-be. Whereas most exhibitions have signs telling you not to touch the works, Erwin Wurm draws on the ground or on the object how you should pose on, under or in an installation. It is really fun, and young and old seem to enjoy it. His caravan for instance lets you stick your legs through holes in the bodywork or lean against a seat hanging against the caravan. Expect to wait in line for your turn or enjoy the other visitors/artists-at-work making fun of themselves. At the entrance of the pavilion, there’s also a large truck standing upright on its cabin. You can enter the container and climb to the top for a view over Giardini.
The serene light installations and the video of Brigitte Kowanz are beautiful as well, but they are outshined by the dynamic works of Erwin Wurm.
The Austrian pavilion is one of my favourites and is therefore one of the 8 pavilions you cannot miss at the Art Biennale 2017.
Katia – The Venice Insider
If you want to know more about the Art Biennale 2017 and the other national participations, this overview page is a good starting point or you can read my post ‘What to expect from the Art Biennale 2017’. If you want to be informed about new pavilions being added to the site, you can subscribe to The Venice Insider biweekly newsletter.
(Picture in banner: Brigitte Kowanz – Metaphora II, 2017 – Neon, Spiegel / Neon, Mirror – B 150 cm, L 60 cm, H 19 cm – Photo: Tobias Pilz (tp) – © Bildrecht, Vienna 2017)
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