One brand-new, one that I almost missed, but thankfully did not: two exhibitions in black and white (and grey) are currently on view at the Albertina Museum. And wow, are they worth seeing! Shortly after Vienna´s museums re-opened after lockdown, I took the opportunity to visit Black White & Grey, an exhibition of contemporary large-scale drawings in, as the name implies, black and white, and the new photography exhibition Faces. The Power of the Human Visage. I was initially going to write them up together, but after I started writing I realised it would be too much information, so bear with me, this will be a two-part blog, and since it ends rather soon, I will start with Black White & Grey.
In this exhibition the Albertina Museum presents large-format works from its own collection, big drawings in pencil, charcoal, ink, chalk, and in addition some black and white sculptures, and a film. Fifteen contemporary artists are represented, both from Austria and from other countries. This exhibition was fortunately extended until 14 March, and I am really glad I still made it, as I was thoroughly impressed with this extensive collection of sometimes wall-sized works of art. It is amazing how these artists create such vibrant lively worlds in shades of grey, just by means of light-dark contrasts. Full disclosure: I truly love colour, and so I was all the more surprised at finding myself completely enthralled by these monochrome artworks from the moment I walked into the first exhibition room and was face to face with a huge collaborative drawing by the Austrian artists Peter Hauenschild, born in Linz in 1958, and Georg Ritter, born in Linz in 1956. They have been collaborating on artworks since 1989.
Like in black and white photography, the use of light and dark and shades in between enables artists to make two-dimensional works seem three-dimensional, and to emphasise expression and mood.
One of the works that most impressed me was Rainer Wölzl´s Panoptikum V – Zaatari, 2020, charcoal on paper. Rainer Wölzl was born in Vienna in 1954. This artwork impressed and touched me a lot because it is so poignant.
Zaatari is a refugee camp in Jordan close to the Syrian border, where Syrians have been fleeing to since 2012. In his work, Rainer Wölzl revolves around the basic questions of human existence. He deals with cultural, social and political issues in different media, and the colour black is predominant. If you look at the lower half of Wölzl´s picture, what you are seeing is an aerial photo of the camp, which Wölzl has reproduced in reduced black and white values. so that the barracks, squares and the street that runs through the area are deserted and show nothing personal. But above that diffuse aerial view, the artist shows us silhouettes of men, women, and children with their bags, their fate uncertain.
The concept artist Sonja Gangl, born in Graz, Austria in 1965, works with media role models. Her primary means of expression is drawing. She translates photo material from sources such as television, newspapers or the Internet into photo-realistic drawings.
One of her series shows close-ups of the human eye. Gangl derives her preoccupation with the human eye from cinematography.
In an extreme close-up, the camera approaches the heroine’s eyes as closely as possible in order to get closer to the soul. In her drawings, Gangl also zooms in on the eyes, and we can see details such as wrinkles, hairs and reflections in the pupil and iris.
Robert Longo Born was born 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. He is known for his monumental photo-realistic images. So what really looks like an impressive photo of a baby´s head here is a chalk drawing. Robert Longo also draws on existing pictures to create monumental “copies” of original black-and-white photographs, transforming them into realistic charcoal drawings. The dramatic light and shadow effects of his drawings emphasize the plasticity and provide depth of field.
The Viennese artist Eduard Angeli explores the myth of silent, empty spaces in his large charcoal drawings in grey-scale. You would not know it looking at them, but the drawings here depict anonymous places in Venice, far from the usual tourist sites.
The South African artist William Kentridge is both a film-maker and a fine artist. His themes deal with aspects of the former Apartheid regime, and his drawings are both works of art in their own right and sketches for his films. Strange beings, part human, part machine, speak of a desire for change. The camera is an omnipresent motif that references his own film-making. The beige-gray scenery symbolises a dreary world, where conditions of oppression refer to Kentridge’s homeland South Africa.
At right: William Kentrdige, Man with Trolley, 2000
Birgit Knöchl, born in Vienna in 1974, uses black and white drawings as the foundation for paper sculpture installations, “room drawings”. She creates cut-outs from ink drawings to create a jungle-like assembly of seemingly wildly growing paper “plants”.
With the last two images I want to show you from this exhibition – although there are so many more – I would like to return your gaze to Rainer Wölzl´s artworks, because this artist´s works truly spoke to me.
As a starting point for his drawing DIE HECKE I (the hedge) – camouflage of Crematorium V in Auschwitz-Birkenau from the series “Museum of Shadows”, Wölzl took a documentary photograph by a concentration camp guard. Wölzl took this photograph of hedges that were erected to hide the Crematorium from external view and created an wide landscape format drawing showing a seemingly endless barrier that continues beyond the edge of the picture.
Overall, there are 15 contemporary artists represented in this extraordinary exhibition. Friends in Vienna, if you have a chance, go see it in the coming week, before it closes on 14 March.