Rainer Spangl at Song Song, Vienna

Rainer Spangl’s exhibition, Trata at Song Song manifests two conceptual frameworks.  One, pictorial images of interior architecture and the other depictions of a historical mural all made with staccato brush marks of singular colors on monochrome grounds.  In each painting, in each grouping of images and also in the combined hanging, Spangl presents institutional questions within idioms of visual pleasure.

The installation of the paintings, some work hung high close to the corners and ceilings and others low nearing the floor, ensures a relational first read of the interaction of the painted monochrome grounds.  Lofted vibrant blue grounds exude from above, a pale taupe and a smaller red piece beam at eye level and from the floor up circling the space are the largest sequential fields of rose, brown, grey, and green.  The ensemble produces simultaneously resonating frequencies to be experienced differently at every point within the gallery walls.

Two themes are present in this show.  Four paintings, those that are hung high and close to the room’s architectural corners have bright blue grounds on which are rendered images of interior spaces.  These are painted from observational studies made by Spangl of corners in the Room 7 of the Art History Museum of Vienna.  Working in the museum, Spangl made pen and paper drawings of the four corners of the monumental room.  The museum itself is the majestic artifact from the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I and today functions to present its historical collection.  The room that Spangl chose for his paintings carries the additional history of being the location in which the Third Reich celebrated the Anschluss of 1938.  By working from observation, Spangl portrays the room’s three dimentional space.  In using his drawings as the source material of paintings, Spangl applies a new take on pointillist rendering giving shape to the diagonals and shadows of the space through movements and placements of marks.  The paintings of the art museum’s architecture are defined by Spangl’s marks depicting the seam joinings of walls, the textile details of the walls and the woodworked moldings and doorframes.  The blue color that Spangl applies for the ground color relates to the color of the blue silk wallcovering of the actual room, likewise the beige color of the foreground marks references a Tiepolo painting that is on view in the actual room of the museum, but not included in the depiction in Spangl’s paintings.

In the four largest paintings are images of the same picture but each painting has its own color ground and image color.  Hanging just at the floor height, these paintings depict women rendered flat, barely more than one-point perspective. The women figures have their heads turned, all facing their left and all wearing full length dresses and holding hands with crossed arms.  The figures and their dresses take most of the picture plane, but just above their heads are visible leaves and flowers just as on the ground, below the women’s bare feet are blades of grass.  These paintings are based on Spangl’s studies of a photographic reproduction of a piece of a mural from a tomb in Ruvo, Italy.  The tomb mural, made in 400 BC when Italy was a Greek territory, illustrates women called Thiads who worshiped Dionysus and engaged in a dance called ‘trata’.  The fragment of the mural is in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.  Spangl came upon a reproduction of the mural fragment in a catalog printed in the 70s by the museum.  In his paintings, he used colors from the catalog print for his choices in the paintings.  In placing the paintings of the dancing figures around the room, Spangl repeats the effect of the circling tomb dance.  As in his other pieces, Spangl applies hundreds of small brush marks developing exceedingly optically engaging image within the painting.

Alluding to the embracing nature of color field abstraction, Spangl uses the placement of his monochrome ground paintings to build a space functioning through color interactions.  His brushwork gives the paintings the quality of ink fluidity relating the paintings to their drawing sources, namely of the observational studies of locations and of flat printed reproductions.  In bringing images of the museum to an outside location and in presenting the images of the museum without any art within the picture plane, Spangl points out a  question of the role and use of the museum and of the tradition it memorializes.  The meditation on the empty corners is possibly a way of trying to find a peace with the institution, which he concurrently values and questions.  The flatness of the figures in the repeated image of the dancers brings up the tradition of western picture making and pre-Christian religious painting practices.  The details of the paintings reveal Spangl’s joy of the medium as he embellishes the flora and fauna and plays with the placement of the feet and hands of the figures between the paintings.   The geometric shapes made of large groupings of marks also echo abstract practices in the movement of the forms across the canvas.

Song Song, Praterstrasse 11 A-1020 Vienna

20.09 – 27.10.12

– Ezara Spangl

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