Simon Lee

Heimo Zobernig

14 Oct - 21 Nov 2009

© Heimo Zobernig
Untitled, 1987
Synthetic resin on canvas
11.5 x 30 x 40 cm, 4 1/2 x 11 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.

14 October 2009 - 21 November 2009

Simon Lee Gallery is proud to announce its forthcoming exhibition Heimo Zobernig: Monochromes. This will be the gallery’s first solo show of the highly regarded Austrian artist, and will include paintings, sculptures, and video installation in a survey of monochrome works. Since the 1980s, Zobernig’s practice has playfully married minimalist objects and monochrome colour schemes, with theatrical use of space and a subversive approach to gallery architecture.
Among the selected works for this exhibition will be a number of Zobernig’s monochrome paintings spanning two decades. Zobernig’s early work in the 1980s can be linked with the latter constructs of the modernist movement, and manifested itself most commonly in the form of grid painting. This recurring geometric motif, a direct reference to the work of modernist painters Mondrian and Palermo, explored themes of objectivity, minimalism, and abstraction, through a reductive formal language. His monochrome canvas paintings are a further reduction of this language, and can be strongly linked with abstract modernism as well as Twentieth Century colour theorists Wassily Kandinsky and Josef Albers.
While the grid paintings hold a structural rigidity through geometric design, the monochrome paintings are removed of all figurative and narrative constructs. This imbues the chosen colour with meaning, as the viewer is left to determine subjectivity through the artist’s palette and brush strokes alone. These “colour studies” all share a reference to surface texture and the formal qualities of the range of materials used. Similar to the work of American abstract painters during the mid-twentieth century, the material and process take centre stage. He makes no attempt to hide brush strokes, wood grain or the imperfections of the canvas. Instead what we see are objects and blocks of colour, positioned within a gallery space to varying effect.
The paintings maintain a level of objectivity through their aesthetic simplicity, and the same can be said of Zobernig’s sculptures. The body of work chosen for this show shares a simple monochromatic theme. His sculptures are minimal, playful and inquisitive, and include a recurring reference to the void; a plexiglass box set on the floor encases nothing but air; a green painted box with the lid left slightly ajar reveals only darkness inside; wall mounted cabinets designed to contain nothing; part painted sheets of particle board lean uncomfortably between painting, sculpture and plinth. The choice of materials is no accident, with a nod to the clinical, highly polished works of Donald Judd, Zobernig constructs minimal forms, but chooses inexpensive common-use materials.
Though Zobernig’s art is not driven by narrative or literature, there is a tangible relationship to the more physical aspects of the theatrical. This relationship is suggested through the installation and positioning of the works within space; calculated voids and architectural interventions provide thought provoking and playful landscapes. Having studied set design at the Vienna Academy in the late 1970s, he treats the gallery space like a stage. He uses Chroma-key fabric to delineate spaces, alter colour fields and his own physical image on screen. In one of his videos his playful nature becomes obvious when he is seen wrestling naked with the primary colours, in another, a large blue fabric snake. Here, a humorous dichotomy between minimal, austere art objects, and the artist himself laid bare, writhing around in lo-fi videos, removes any pretentious undertones, and emphasises the artist’s lightness of touch.

Heimo Zobernig was born in Austria in 1958, and currently lives and works in Vienna. He studied at the Akademie der bildenden Künste, Wien from 1977-1980, and at the Hochschule fur Angewandte Kunst, Wien from 1980-1983. He has exhibited extensively across the world, with an upcoming show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and recent solo shows at Tate St Ives in Cornwall, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, and CAPC, Musée d’art Contemporain, Bordeaux. He has had numerous shows in Europe, as well as Australia and the USA.

Tags: Josef Albers, Donald Judd, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Heimo Zobernig