In Krems, the thirty-year retrospective of Franz Graf makes clear why Graf warrants his icon status in Austria and his reputation as role model to many emerging Viennese artists. Titled ‘SCHWARZ HEUTE JETZT HABE DASS SCHON FAST VERGESSEN’ (translates something like, ‘black, today now I have almost forgotten), the predominantly black and white exhibition spans six large rooms of Kunsthalle Krems. On paper, canvas, photographs and mixed form sculpture, Graf repeats motifs of text, female portraiture, hands, spines, and plants. In many pieces he adheres to strict symmetrical geometry in depicting abstract organic forms or record album shaped circles, but Graf leaves open his work to a-linearity and free form composition. To a greater extent Graf’s handling of his own works alters the read depicting both exactitude with nonchalance. Particularly, the graphite and ink paper pieces incite the coincident duality of tightness and openness. In these, white paper grounds hold dense black hardedge graphic forms with apparent unconcern for the surrounding overall fingerprints of dust, chalk and ink. These smudges and traces reveal, as form-follows-function, that there are many images coming to Graf, but the point is his practice.
Plausibly, the circulation of Graf’s exhibition reflects a reasoning of combining distant themes to locate specific affected sentiments. In text, Graf uses words as well as the aesthetics of font to emote clear sentences and non-language pictures. Painted words go from quoting inspirations to quoting himself, as in, ‘was ich davon gesehen’ (what I have already seen) and ‘wir sind nicht gleich’ (we are not the same). Text also exists as image alone, for instance with gothic letters forming undecipherable words and compositions based on single letters, such as ‘M’. Faces of women are portrayed repeatedly with graphic details fixed in eyes and rasps of hair. Some faces appear again and again, one of mention is a woman’s face that repeats in many of the portraits staged as though she is gazing off, somehow over the shoulder of the painting. In other works, the female portraits seem more distant just as a model from the late renaissance and another, a nude participating in a bondage scene. The ebb and flow of Graf’s practice reveals conviction of synchronized repetitions but yet marked by decided instances that reveal either moments of changed direction or of portraying a current inspiration.
The ending room of the exhibition is a large space, which has been turned into a performance space surrounded by some of Graf’s found object sculptures, namely out of date muscle building machines that look like small vessels and thrones, an upright piano, scaffolding and one mannequin bust. A stage is set for music bands from Iceland to perform. Above the stage hangs a large white canvas onto which is projected a looping color video of stills. There are two paintings hanging high on a wall, one that is predominantly black with text and one that is white with a concentric rectangle pattern.
Throughout, heavy themes close to trauma, desire, rawness, and relaxation are carried in graphic central imagery. The materiality and repeating images present determination but decidedly remain unfinished revealing train of thought and thereby finding an end.
Kunstmeile Krems, Franz-Zeller-Platz 3, 3500 Krems an der Donau
March 28 – June 27, 2010