Awåragaude? Gerald Domenig at the Secession
Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Vienna
Apri 22 – June 19 2016
Photography, drawing, and writing (texts) are the preferred genres of the Austrian artist Gerald Domenig, who lives in Frankfurt am Main. He has worked in these media since the 1970s, building a sizable oeuvre distinguished by formal consistency and thematic openness. In Domenig’s work, drawing and photography figure as two registers that serve diametrically opposed purposes with regard to a construction of reality. His drawings are intended as drafts or preliminary sketches for photographs: his work with the pencil may be conceived as a tentative exploration of the world. By contrast, the photographs—most of them are black-and-white—are not just snapshots capturing moments; aiming at more than a rendition of reality, they are always self-contained images of a situation, a place. Domenig, who uses an analog camera, develops the films by hand, and makes his own prints, sees photography as a technique of visual construction, of the transformation of space into surface and the resolution of what was before the camera’s lens into a pictorial creation. “When I make photographs, I want to translate an image hidden in the three-dimensional world, a latent flatness, into a concrete picture,” Domenig says.
Recurrent motifs (though his true “motif” is photography itself) include coats, trousers, houses, cars—everyday things, found objects, like the pair of gloves a child must have lost in the street. What he finds in small things he then recreates in his studio, in staged scenes that aim for the greatest possible simplicity and starkness. Unprepossessing façades and corners of houses, weather-beaten walls or ones that show traces of structural alterations: these are of particular interest to the artist—surfaces of non-places in which he discovers painterly details that remind him of works by Sol LeWitt, Mark Rothko, and others. One location where Domenig has taken photographs for many years are the gorges of the Garnitzenklamm in the Gailtal region of southern Austria. In his pictures, the spectacular scenery’s three dimensions collapse into a strange flatness. Domenig likes to highlight formal analogies between his pictures, splicing them along what he calls a “suture” and presenting them on facing pages of a book.
Gerald Domenig’s exhibition at the Secession presents a selection from his photographic and graphic oeuvres, with an emphasis on still lifes and architecture photography; new pictures are juxtaposed with first prints of negatives that have sat in his archive for some time. Ambiguity with regard to form as well as content, an unsettling destabilization of spatial perception that grows out of the picture itself, is characteristic of Domenig’s photographic practice and served as the guiding idea behind the selection of the works on display.
The arrangement in the first room shows an array of architectonic structures and details such as façades and windows. Two series are presented face to face: pictures Domenig took during several stays in Antwerp on the one side, and photographs of the façade of a building slated for demolition in the vicinity of the Secession that he captured during a recent trip to Vienna on the other.
The second room, where Dike Blair’s Drinks, a set of still lifes in small formats, were on view in the previous exhibition, is once again dedicated to still lifes: small-format photographs of bowls in peculiar nested arrangements, broken china, and plastic containers for film reels coiled around tumblers. Here, too, Domenig draws us into a play with unstable perspectives; like Rorschach images, the compositions are hard to pin down.