THE PICTORIAL IMPULSE
Rainer Metzger
2004
Translation: Axel Fussi
The picture has again, since the 1980’s, become art.  They have again become more intricate than those roaming the scenes of hype and advertisement, or the propaganda of the information and service industries. Before that, for nearly a century, the autonomous used to be simpler than the heteronomous. In fact, a pissoir on a pedestal or a black square was considered to be the spearheads of conceptuality and, unquestionably, skill and competence went into their performance. Yet, one couldn´t see it. One had to know.

We are done with this now. But the faded pictures, aged by the process of no better notion than postmodern, now testify to the fact that seeing is implicit in thinking. Pictures are not mere illustrations, they do not possess visuality alone, pictures above all consist of pictorality. To expand on pictorality is done no better than in the recent works of Franziska Maderthaner.

Her images make the connection that pictorality has always already presupposed some sort of cognitive compression. The image represented is not merely one particular piece of a spectacle, equipped with several attractions of colour and procedures, a look at and into a world of optical opulence. A picture is first of all a form of organisation, the resolute together of sensations, which have always already been within the picture itself.

So, a model is built, let’s say on a scale of 1:10. This model comes with a variety of arrangements, clips from publications are stapled to the side, soft figures, toys and household utensils are distributed within this miniature space and the function of whatever material altered – to serve as accessories of the heterogeneous. Then a photograph of this model or model-situation is taken, then a slide is made from the photograph which in its turn is projected onto a wall, where it is finally painted on a canvas. Thus, after a long procedure, the canvas, as seen in the painting, emerges as the delicatessen of the peinture.

The wealth of detail and synthetic togetherness of assorted things in Franziska Maderthaner’s pictures, do not only look intricate crossing over partiality, they are exactly that. In the use of various associations and invitations to expand one’s thoughts, they keep a mechanism of multiplication and outbidding of meaning is kept going, this turns intricacy into complexity.

One could call this kind of technique sampling. Firstly, Franziska Maderthaner’s pictures are certainly not fancy ones, as this sampling suggestion might imply. Secondly, the particular method of integrating various elements does not obey the logic of somehow or some getting-a-hold-of something from somewhere; things are not at all reduced to their phenomenal appearance, but always already include meaning, because they are reminiscent of the context, out of which they are taken, while at the same time sustaining it.

Thirdly, it is telling that Franziska Maderthaner, before she started with her recent works, has been using a technique that would provide the supposed contingency of things brought together in the picture with the most logical legitimisation for illogicity, viz. the old convention of aleatoric logic; thus, eventually, playing with dice decided what should be in the picture. Summing up, these pictures are by far too constructed, both in their mechanics and their methods, to be but products of sampling. They do produce an abundance of meaning and not the collapse of all sense. They look for the exuberance of meaning and do not demonstrate its impossibility. They are, in one word, rather polysemic than disseminative.

Whether one likes it or not, for artists, as well as critics and all those dealing with aesthetic matters, there is a specific moment, both historic and present, when preferences, modes of access and dispositions are anchored in the mind. At a given point the formation of criteria is set in motion, with this particular sometime henceforth prevailing. For those who grew up with Minimalism it is difficult not to pay attention to the serial, untechnical and cool (and also not to think of the ‘Expressives’ as being monkeyish through their lifetime).

Franziska Maderthaner was born in 1962 and with a birth date like this, one is necessarily prone to finding aesthetic orientations in the late seventies and early eighties, which informed and influenced her œuvre. And in fact much of what her recent work succinctly and concisely represents, can be traced back to that time. In the 1980’s, photorealism (the presence of which at the documenta 5 provided Franziska Maderthaner with an early artistic satori) had its first renaissance (only after did theory, Jean Baudrillard’s dictum of ‘hyperrealism’, catch up).

In the 1980’s, the critical impetus of an art-about-art was in full swing and the artificial context of a collection, now presented in full irony in Maderthaner’s works had become problematic (e.g. with Louise Lawler, who probably suits best for a comparison; but more on that later). And at this time one could admire the new discovery, out of the spirit of postmodernity, marking a new epoch and which gave a real boost to the pictures of art (-about-art). Pictures (read: good pictures) are, in the first place and ever since, pictorial. Before that they were predominantly conceptual.

One of the key texts about this new pictorality of pictures was Craig Owens’ ‘The Allegorical Impulse’ published in 1980, then propagated in the central organ of postmodern aesthetics, the October, founded in 1976. Owens is offering six notions, to catch on to the new complexity of pictures, which, following Walter Benjamin, he summarizes in the title ‘allegorical’, (the only one outdated notion in Owens’ conceptuality is, accordingly, this collective term).

Henceforth these six notions shall be applied to the pictorality, which is at the center of Franziska Maderthaner’s work.

1. “Appropriation”: Thus representations of artworks that populate Franziska Maderthaner’s artificial sceneries, are actually materialized and brought into circulation by way of publication and integrated into the model as newspaper clips, like a date painting of ‘On Kawara’ or a word drawing of Ed Ruscha; now and then they lend themselves to quotelike invocations as in Sigmar Polkes’ smiling apparition of ‘higher beings’. And, finally and exactly like that, sheer associations that function in the sense of the alien incorporation into one’s own, and the most innocent similarity renders something wrapped into a Christo and something crumpled into a John Chamberlain.

2. “Site-specifity”: Accordingly, the assembled appropriations are strung into a new context. A context that stands for recognition as something notoriously being art in everything invocated and borrowed. Maderthaner provides further insight into collections, which are as much characterized by the site-independence of their exhibits, as by the site-specifity of their storage. There is always a view, be it of an alpine landscape, the bizarre rock formations of New Mexico or the scenery of a river.

3. “Impermanence”: Everything, touched by the art of his time, is transitory, says Owens, ephemeral by necessity, even if it is imbued with the impression of the solid and indispensable. In this sense Franziska Maderthaner does not only produce the details of her picture-worlds, but also the perfect arbitrariness of what is displayed in her pictorial spaces. These objects are impermanent, because they are totally contingent in their being together. Their convocation is the opposite of necessity.

4. “Accumulation”: And yet, all these things are brought together, placed next, on top and adjacent to each other to form an artificial world of relation. The accumulation is performed in the name of heightening or intensification, the reciprocal charging it with meaning.

5. “Discursivity”: There is a particular appellative dimension in these pictures. They do not tell the story of a situation, which exists anyway, or talk about their relation with a world outside the rectangle that are the pictures. Discursivity replaces reference, together with the function of addressing, some kind of theatricality, which exists only insofar as it is aimed at perception.

6. “Hybridization”: Different from those, as it were, classical procedures of incorporation of existing pictures viz. collage and montage, hybridization rather starts from accumulation and enrichment than from pure appropriation. Franziska Maderthaner does not use things and appearances in order to compose them as fragments, quotations and particles of realities; rather the contexts from which they are taken are accepted and reused as totalities. It is entire worlds that meet here. The pictures of contemporary art, are rendered ever more complex by the mechanisms as put into words by Owens. If Franziska Maderthaner’s newest production – in that sense – can be oriented along a process that started in the 1980’s, a point of departure is set. But then, the difference is more marked: Her own being up-to-date and her being relevant to the immediate present lies in the increasing wealth, variety and ramification of the dimensions calculated for in the pictures.

When, in the 1980’s, the principle of observation had reached a higher level and an art-about-architecture, an art-about-art-world and an art-about-modernism emerged, the already achieved state of self-thematising of one’s elevated position above things didn’t come to an end.

When Louise Lawler dedicated her work to those hybrid realities, in which Andy Warhol – in a private collection – would appear vis-à-vis an impressionist, she made art-about-art in an exemplary way. And this makes it all the more clear, all the more explicit and characteristic, when Franziska Maderthaner in her turn takes up Louise Lawler in order to fathom further meta-levels.

So, as we can learn from that, there exists – in postmodernity – a logic of outbidding. And finally, after a century of modernist reduction, there are again good pictures.