In his article “Painting Beside Itself” (2009), the art historian David Joselit identifies the question of how painting can belong to a network as one of the most important problems in painting since Andy Warhol.1 This question was raised by Martin Kippenberger back in 1990/91, in a typically provocative statement in which he compares painting to pasta: “Simply to hang a painting on the wall and say that it’s art is dreadful. The whole network is important! Even spaghettini… When you say art, then everything possible belongs to it. In a gallery that is also the floor, the architecture, the color of the walls.”2
Absurd as the comparison may seem, there was nothing new about the essence of his observation in the early 1990s. Painting was constantly tied into a network of exhibition, distribution, and reception, but Kippenberger was explicitly interested in how an individual artwork might visualize these networks, how it might be interwoven with a network constituted from the recipients as agents. This was a question of integration into living spaces with more meaning than geometrical Euclidean space, spaces that develop laterally to visible reality. The architecture theorist Franz Xaver Baier, who radicalized and significantly expanded the concept of space, writes concerning this that: “Perception becomes an existential being-within. Under-standing becomes within-standing within a context. View, on-sight, becomes in-sight. And within the in-sight, new spaces and internal views are opened up.”3 In its time, Institutional Critique concerned itself with issues that went beyond the single artwork, thinking in terms of the systemic context also. Artists like Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, Michael Asher, and Marcel Broodthaers looked at processual methods that investigated the social and institutional framing conditions of the production and reception of art. Art was supposed to enquire into its locations not only in terms of their architecture and function, but also with regard to historic, social, or political identity. Institutional critique in the form of analysis of locations of artistic praxis was expanded in the 1990s by the addition of contextualization methods. The artist, curator, and theorist Peter Weibel summed up these approaches under the term “context art”4, describing the explicit critical interest of artists, no longer in the art institution alone, but also in economic, ecological, and social contexts and operation systems going beyond the location. From the art context, institutional critique expanded to the whole of society.
It was in the early 1990s, against this intellectual and atmospheric background, that Herbert Hinteregger developed his conceptual paintings. From the beginning, the “invisible processes in the background, which are not directly readable on the picture’s surface”5 were a significant motivation for him. In painstaking, minute work, he obtained the coloring for his paintings from mass-produced BIC ball pens, placing it in differing densities on the picture medium, whose subtle appearance changes according to standpoint and light incidence, suggesting constant slight movement. In an age of incipient digitalization, the speeding-up of communication processes and an increasing flood of images, Hinteregger engages with categories such as reduction, slowing, and contemplation. From the beginning, however, he was also interested in one of the central categories of globalization, rapid technological change and swift information exchange: in the network. His canvases are frequently covered with network-like structures, created using adhesive tape to produce dynamic lines on the picture field that cross in multiple places. The areas between the lines are colored in with ball pen inks. When the tape strips are removed, the picture’s ground is revealed to view. He creates referential systems that organize themselves into shared structures and create correspondences between line, surface, and space, between color and form, light and shade, abstraction and the concrete. The iridescent ball pen ink surfaces correspond with the picture ground, which features various different carrier materials such as raw canvas, bright-colored loden cloth, tulle, wood, jeans or mirrors, which either absorb the light and integrate back into the surface or expand out of the picture surface into three-dimensional space through reflective properties. The materials produce closeness and distances and provide no fixed point of reference for the viewer’s eye which is also set in motion with regard to the pictures’ boundaries. The eye tends to extend the network-like but also gridlike, diagonally, vertically, and horizontally arranged lines past the boundaries of the picture and into space. At the same time it stays with the perception of the precisely executed boundary lines at the outer edges of the picture carrier and returns to the surface. Hinteregger’s artworks are neither one thing nor the other, and are both at the same time; they are abstract, but can also evoke representationality. Their geometrical image construction may for instance reflect neural networks, architectonic plans, city plans, or the reduced design of the Wiener Werkstätte. They are painterly and constructive, dynamic but possessed of stillness, and they confirm the image field even as they pass beyond it.
Hinteregger’s work combines the questioning (within the image) of formal means such as material, color, geometry, line, surface, and space with the question cited at the beginning: how can painting belong to a network, and what networks might these be? Networks spread out spaces: contextual spaces. The philosopher and media theorist Boris Groys has also spoken about this, in his essay “Politics of Installation”, in which he distinguishes between “private space” as the space within the image that is entirely controlled by the artist, and the “public space”, the space beyond this sphere of influence, such as institution, art market, distribution, reception, or art criticism. Groys regards the engagement with the “relational” affinity, with the “transition” between private and public space, as a significant issue to be addressed by contemporary painting.6
In Hinteregger’s artworks, the transitive quality and the associated processes of revaluation are initially evident with regard to the material. Ball pen ink – an everyday product – is changed from a graphical writing medium to a painterly image medium; construction panels or clothing fabrics become image carriers. In his drawings, illustrated pages from books are robbed of their content by means of gaps and overpaintings, and are instead given new interpretations. However, for Hinteregger, the transitional is fundamental not only within the private space of the picture field, but also with respect to the public space, in the relationship between the artworks, their affinity to the surrounding space, and the action and interpretation space of the recipient.
The interaction space
Since the beginning of his artistic investigation, Hinteregger has been interested in connections. For him, the relationships in which it stands and the experience spaces thus created are just as important as the object in itself. For instance, he combines smaller artworks with larger artworks, older artworks with newer artworks, and hangs them at various heights. He creates wall ensembles, which, as with the exhibition Now on Display (Collection Ivo Moser, Innsbruck 2016) extend across corners of the room, and, within which hierarchies are dissolved in favor of a greater shared whole. Thus, the artworks develop individual spatial fields, between which interactions arise that make visible the connections and tensions, overlappings and similarities. The ensemble appears to absorb the corner space, whilst at the same time affirming it. The overall effect is to draw one in. The viewer’s gaze moves up and down, forward and back, before coming to rest in the corner. In other wall installations also, Hinteregger works with the exhibition space’s architectonic situation, by, for instance, emphasizing the space’s height by means of artworks placed precisely one atop the other, or by creating picture ensembles that wind along the stairs, as he did in his 2001 solo exhibition in the Georg Kargl gallery in Vienna. In the exhibition ball-pen-ink (2003) at the Remise Bludenz, he placed artworks in various different formats from his sponge picture series at regular intervals on a shared lower edge, whilst allowing them to pass around a corner so that they ended precisely beneath the room’s square, covered windows. The whole exhibition space is activated by this form of installation setting, and the picture surface is integrated into a living organization context that guides visitors through the exhibition space. Visitors are changed from silent viewers to flaneurs who begin “to see with their legs.”7
The outspread space
Aside from the composition of artwork ensembles that develop from walls and affirm, overcome, or activate them, Hinteregger also experiments with the context of paintings and three-dimensional objects. For a joint exhibition with the German installation artist Michael Sailstorfer (Georg Kargl Box, Vienna 2013), he conceived a wall console whose format corresponded to that of the picture mounted on it, which was positioned askew. The shadow cast by the hanging square was taken up, as it were, by the canvas, and, at the lower edge of the picture, the corresponding sum total of the shadow was cast against the wall. The picture looked as though it was falling out of a white wall frame, only to pause in the midst of the movement to float against the wall. This creates a hybrid of painting and sculpture in which the hanging pedestal seemingly fuses with the wall to create a picture, and the picture mutates into an ephemeral, spatial sculpture and forms a shared picture-volume.
In recent years, Hinteregger has no longer been content to hang his paintings on or against the wall, or to develop them out of verticality. For the exhibition Increasingly Colorful – Current Painting from Austria (2012) at Taxispalais, he designed a floating console that guides the exhibition visitors whilst also keeping them at a distance from the pictures on the walls. Additionally, the console mutates into a sculpture in its own right: robbed of its protective function, it becomes a presentation element for a horizontally positioned picture. It is as though a long path has been realized via the horizontal embedding of the image in the wall console: from the painstaking obtaining of the material and the concentrated application of color to the way the presentation form is emancipated from the wall by its resting, floating state. It seems almost as though the artwork seen here in the public perception space of the institution was reflecting the private space of the studio, where it would have lain on the worktable of the artist during the process of its creation. On this path, the artwork passes through many stages: lying, hanging, leaning, standing, travelling, being produced, photographed, packaged, stored, and transported.
Hinteregger also uses all of these transitional states as themes in a temporary, site‑specific installation (2012) at the Halle Otrans in Kitzbühel. This international art shipping center is not a fixed exhibition space – it is a transit space that is occasionally filled and given new life by dedicated exhibition projects. The site, its designation and its context defined Hinteregger’s installation. He developed a modular system composed of cubes. Placed alongside one another, one atop the other, they became consoles pushed against the wall; freestanding, they became pedestals. As if arranged for the private visits of collectors, the paintings leant steeply against the wall at eye height, or stood on elevated pedestals as if for protection. A number of pictures were lying on pedestals as if awaiting the attentions of a restorer or in readiness for packaging for transport by a hauler. Hinteregger’s interest in “the invisible processes in the background“ does not just relate to the artwork itself, but also to the network of presentation, reception, distribution, and revaluation logic.
The inner and the outer space: the performative space
“In geometric space, inner space and outer space are of the same quality. In lived space, this appears entirely different. The so-called ‘world’ consists of a visible reality - but also of an invisible. It is the invisible 'inner world', 'counter-world' that organizes the outer world in the first place,”8 writes Franz Xaver Baier, proposing a concept of space that distinguishes between Euclidean and lived perceptual space. European culture is dominated by a tradition of elevation and subjection, by a hierarchical subject-object schema. Unlike, for instance, the Japanese tradition, which understands the space between people and between person and world as core identity and existential origin.9 Hinteregger’s artworks are significantly directed toward bringing to life these interstitial spaces and allowing them to be experienced by the senses. It is not only the interaction between the artworks that interests him, but also space as it is experienced.
For Hinteregger, this is also tied to another question: what happens when the artwork leaves the private space of the studio, the professional space of the gallery and the semi‑public space of the institution, and itself becomes a performer in the public space? What happens when it gives up its status as a tradable commodity and becomes an actor in a precarious performance? Hinteregger enquires into this by, for instance, hanging a picture made using white primer paint on the rough brick wall in front of the Bernhard Knaus gallery in Mannheim, thus exposing it unprotected to the public and to the elements. In the photographic documentation, the additive gesture in the outside space looks like a subtractive copying-out action, like a blind window in the wall in another reality, which remains hidden. The associated processes of production and destruction, the reshaping and revaluation and mutual dependency of the public and private spheres also play a role when Hinteregger lays a picture in the meadow over the winter, letting it be covered by the snow and brings it back to the studio in the spring, in a weathered condition, or, at the end of a period of study in Český Krumlov, lets one of his works float down the Vltava to an uncertain fate.
Herbert Hinteregger’s intrapictorial and extrapictorial space conceptions are processual realities with adjustable parameters, characterized by specific moods, feelings, experiences and insights. Perception of his pictures and installation compositions requires time and contemplation. The time in question is different to the time that he experiences as he wanders through deserted coastal landscapes and by lonely lakes. It is different to the time spent in the seclusion of the studio, engaged in the time-consuming process of gaining the material, in precisely constructing the picture, and in the ponderous application of the paint, and it is different to the time spent on the intensive conception of the exhibition. And yet it is of a similar quality. A quality engaged in a constant flux, devoted to changes, revaluations, and reinterpretation. Hinteregger spreads out a transitional network space; a space that engages in connections and accepts branchings, evokes subtle nuances, and can only be experienced in the mode of the present, in the moment of total concreteness and sensory experience.
1 David Joselit, “Painting Beside Itself”, in: October 130, autumn 2009, p. 125.
2 Martin Kippenberger, quoted in: David Joselit, ibid.
3 Franz Xaver Baier: Der Raum. Prolegomena zu einer Architektur des gelebten Raumes, Cologne 2000, p. 26.
4 Peter Weibel, Kontext Kunst – The Art of the 90’s, exh. cat., Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Cologne 1994.
5 Herbert Hinteregger, unpublished manuscript for a hearing at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich 2015, p. 2.
6 Boris Groys, “Politics of Installation“, e-flux, Journal #2, January 2009, URL: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/02/68504/politics-of-installation, as of April 2017.
7 “We see with our legs”, writes the biologist and philosopher Humberto Maturana, referring to the changes in what we perceive caused by movement. Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Der Baum der Erkenntnis, Munich 1991, quoted in: Heinz von Förster, in: Karlheinz Barck (ed.), Aisthesis: Wahrnehmung heute oder Perspektiven einer anderen Ästhetik, Leipzig 1993, p. 440.
8 Franz Xaver Baier, as with note 3, p. 53.
9 Franz Xaver Baier mentions that the Japanese word for person, “ningen”, means “person in-between”. Franz Xaver Baier, as with note 3, p. 59.