There is widespread agreement that Oswald Oberhuber is one of today’s most important artists. Moreover, his significance for the achievements of Austrian art can hardly be overestimated. What makes him so special is not only his engagement for the political role of art in society, but also his contribution to the internationalization of the Austrian art scene after 1945, his support of young artists, and his interest in and knowledge of art-historical contexts and developments he has always followed with full attention.
Conceived and assembled by Oswald Oberhuber for the Gallery of the City of Schwaz, the exhibition “Documents Art Information” illustrates the wide range of the artist’s activities on the one hand, yet, on the other, focuses even more on his attitude as an artist and his doubts about art-historical canonizations, whose restricted perspectives tend to blind out essential aspects of the subject in question.
Oberhuber takes a close look and sees things in contexts. He rejects a logic of production that confines itself to the individual work, relates both his and other artists’ works to each other, and thus develops an implicit criticism of aesthetic and institutional forms of artistic practice.
In the 1950s, the young artist already dedicated himself to the trends and discussions mainly originating in France that were concerned with the relationship between form and formlessness. In the book published together with Rosalind E. Krauss to accompany the exhibition “Formless,” the French art historian Yves Alain Bois distinguishes between “informe” and “art informel.” He understands the formless (“informe”) as opposed to Art Informel and maintains that the latter has to be seen as a play of transposition, as a space for imagination and projection, as a process of becoming form.
For Oberhuber, Art Informel is not a style, but an artistic attitude. According to Bazon Brock, who is closely allied to Oberhuber, Art Informel abandoned the presupposed unity of cognition, imagination, and representation: from then on, the forming of concepts has no longer depended on visual perceptions to which words, gestures, and pictures were assigned. This uncoupling opened up a new dimension for thinking and seeing. One might say that Art Informel implied a flow of thinking that continuously establishes new links between things.
Oswald Oberhuber is a master in the play of transposition, in linking contexts, or in building synapses, as it were. His list of works reads like a kaleidoscope of art: “Cube – Red Mask,” “Bronze” column, “Pink Circle” silver, “Still Life” box. In his sculptures, collages, drawings, and paintings, Oberhuber shows himself capable of interlinking aesthetic categories in a manner that reveals his pleasure in simplifying ambiguous information and his interest in reassessing inconsistencies and things forgotten or suppressed with always fresh eyes.
In the Gallery of the City of Schwaz, Oswald Oberhuber presents a series of poster designs, twenty-six cardboard sculptures, as well as collages, letters, and materials documenting installations and environments partly shown for the first time. All media the artist employs are informative in the double meaning of the word.
The posters are aesthetic manifestations of what they proclaim. Colors, typographical elements, and motifs interlock as modules, and their uniqueness derives from both their graphic and their curatorial conception. For Oberhuber also initiated all the exhibitions he made posters for, bringing works by Pevsner, Hartung, Albers, and numerous other artists to Austria.
Oberhuber equally uses the collage as both a conceptual and a curatorial medium. In the early 1970s, he started publishing the paper Galerie nächst St. Stephan. He used it for documenting the gallery’s exhibition activities and for presenting specific curatorial approaches. By assembling drawings by Cy Twombly, Hanne Darboven, Wols, and himself, for example, Oberhuber tried to convey the nature of rhythmicized automatic writing and drawing in its different artistic forms.
Oberhuber visualizes his achievements as a collector by listing his donations to Vienna’s College of Applied Arts and presenting documents of these donations, copies, and graphic material.
The political explosiveness of his works becomes obvious in collages such as Wo bleibt die Kunst?, Künstler ohne Kunst, or Kunst ist Scheiße. As head of the Galerie nächst St. Stephan and Director of the College of Applied Arts, Oberhuber never shrank back from taking a stand and, with his statements as an artist, provides eloquent evidence of the heated debates he may spark off.
Oswald Oberhuber’s cardboard sculptures radiate a special lightness that is not only due to their low weight. At the age of eighty-two, the artist may now definitely find it easier to work with cardboard and paper instead of with wood or metal. Yet the pleasure the sculptures convey still springs from the humor with which he has always responded – and contributed – to the delusions and confusions of art.