September 22 - November 10, 2018
Markus Bacher and the fanfares of Gustav Mahler
Austrian art has always been an unusual form of art, an art of borderlands and marches, anxious to assert its singularity, its attachment to its vernacular peculiarities at the same time as challenging any autarchic withdrawal. Vienna, at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, was the exasperating and stimulating counterpoint of Paris and Berlin. Cubism did not flourish there. Nor did futurism. Deconstruction, a pledge of the revival developed from the past as posited by the skeptic Musil, was being developed both by Schönberg and Mahler. But it was nevertheless in the Viennese melting pot that the fusion of the components of our modernity took place. But the dangers of its activist spread were, equally, well anticipated. And it may well be that their premonition stimulated the effervescence animating the intensity of Austrian methodological research in the history of art. And its refusal of generalising “instruction manuals”! Aloïs Riegl was not quite a formalist and Gombrich and Pächt, among others, were not converted to the iconological “religiosity”. And there is a sort of testy romanticism in Austrian art which is always resolved in the seductiveness of colour worked with a zeal that is at once serious and carefree. Even sometimes in the disturbing rituals of the activists from which Günter Brus was able to protect himself from its unjustifiable excesses which Hermann Nitsch, instead, channeled into a theatricality that was almost comical and odious at the same time.
The art of Markus Bacher, like that of many contemporary Austrian artists, is as though nourished, impregnated, with this romantic syncretism, which Klimt, by regulating it through a mosaicist’s geometry making the most of the expressive intensity of colour, unintentionally transformed into a blend of the art of Matisse and Kandinsky with Byzantine mosaic. Perhaps, pulled in different directions as much as Mahler by the contradictions of his certainties, did he knew that he was “politically” corroding Austrian imperialism by likening it to that territory without a “country” born from the break-up of what was the imperium romanum? The art of Markus Bacher, like that of Herbert Brandl, among others, or of Kurt Kocherscheidt before him, somewhat contradicts this belief that the more an art aims to become universal, the more it is necessary for it to rid itself of its vernacular anchors. It is, perhaps, the opposite that occurs. The withdrawal from what becomes “common” accentuates the “strangeness” of the forms and contents that are often offered by seemingly offbeat works. He who looks at them is firstly sensitive to the coherence of their execution and their forms and contents. And, the players of globalisation – what Boris Groys calls “the new universalism” – in progress and in action, consider that their first political and cultural duty is to complete the depiction of multiple and heterogeneous cultures dictated by different cultural identities(1). The more art in Austria has manifested its “strangeness”, the better it has imposed itself as necessary to an indispensable universality(2).
This is why, more than the painting of Adrian Schiess or Herbert Brandl, the art of Markus Bacher constrains anyone who tries to distinguish the specific characters to be compelled to a form of comparison that seeks at all costs to avoid defining them as resulting from inexorable determinisms. The works of Markus Bacher instead expose the impossibility of their being pigeonholed in hasty categorisations.
As we look at them, these works impose on us with their formidable and enchanting presence. Their face stops us. Facing their face. They stand before our eyes to open us to their opacity. And not to their transparency. We are far from Hölderlin and German Romanticism. But just as far from Rilke. Do we take here the risk of an “impressionist” reading? Certainly not! It is these works that inspire and guide our approach. And to go beyond, we have to move away, with a sideways glance that nevertheless enables us to make use of our knowledge and our “connoisseurship”. At this point, we can only note that the markers setting out our approach make us walk away from the cultural “habitus” determined by our language. In this regard, Veit Loers(3) recalls that Markus Bacher says that his painting is just another way of speaking. It thus generates its language in which a subtle game of lexical reminiscences taken from an Austrian cultural “habitus” is triggered. With regard to some of Markus Bacher’s paintings formalist, a approach might prompt a French critic to venture to quote Zao Wou-ki or even Louis Cane. But these associations quickly turn out to throw out misinterpretations. The “sounds” of his pictorial language evoke rather the works of the Tyrolean Johann Evangelist Holzer and those of the Swabian Franz Anton Maulbertsch. As Veit Loers has aptly suggested. In both the Swabian and Tyrolean, there is a kind of eagerness, by their tendency to adopt a far presto in like manner to Luca Giordano or rather that of the emulators of Tiepolo, to project coloured fragments against mute tones of aerial backgrounds where forms are entangled, dislocated and torn. In Markus Bacher, they also seem to disperse and dissolve into the same texture: a kind of thick fabric where they become abstract. As in the last works of Lovis Corinth, motifs, figures and forms seem to spring upwards in the effort, to avoid getting bogged down in the coating of pictorial material shaped sometimes by stretches of coloured matter peeling off not like in Gerhard Richter, but more like in Herbert Brandl’s “alpine” paintings.
But, to follow in the wake of the metaphor risked by Veit Loers, I should not be blamed for wanting to hear the games enveloping the notes of Brahms’s stately continuum contrasting with the dissonant, creaking sonorities that Mahler deploys as juxtapositions to “immiscible” themes: those of symphonic music and those of bandstand music, to use the words of Frédéric Bisson(4). I do not say that by chance. In front of the burned spaces of Markus Bacher’s works or of their frozen expanses, how not to evoke the resurrections of Cranach’s Christ and even more that of Grünewald, which haunt the the collective imagination of German painting until Richter and Baselitz, or indeed the relentless glaciations painted by Caspar David Friedrich? One could also consider the implosion of the paintings of Klimt or Kokoschka. Or – and their colourful moods bring them closer, – the whirls of clouds populated by the ecstasies promised to the elect painted by Giovanni Nepomuceno Palliardi at Prague’s Strahov cloister, that other place of Hapsburg rule. As if it were returning things and beings, nature, long before they existed, like in that instant when their atoms had not yet been pulled together. Or as if everything were dissolving in the uncertainty of unpredictable dislocations and plastic concentrations of the Anthropocene era. The art of Markus Bacher is more realistic than it seems. Just as Mahler juxtaposes the flights of great art and the lamenti or martial rhythms of bandstand music, but in painting these “immiscible”(5) juxtapositions are declared by the spatiality of great baroque art and what populated the spaces of historiae imposed on us by TV screens and video games.
As though arising from the depths of space and time, we can see shapes forming or crumbling in a kind of implacable fusion or liquefaction. As if the universe were rushing into a one-way nuclear fission, mixing all the molecular and atomic structures in an indescribable plasma soup from which a space attempts to establish itself, neither full nor empty, traversed by spectral vessels, uncertain aircraft, war machines with unlikely ballistics: the famous Bertha howitzer, the naval battle of Tsushima, etc. In these space soups, these uncertain magmas, this indefinable chaos, we might see a kind of transcription in painting of the representations – on a video screen afflicted with a remorseless but seductive flickering – premonitions of eschatological visions, the cumulation of all the battles, of all the calamities, all the resurrections since genesis and the abandonment by God of the universe to men. The ironic prophecy of all our expectations?
We will be surprised at the importance attributed here to the content. Yet I have attributed what is seen an importance that qualifies Markus Bacher’s art. As in Romantic painting, the content here is indissociable from the form. The same goes for the Baroque expressiveness concentrated in the energetic core of those modelli of Gesammtkunstwerk, such as a church like that of Steinhausen, or a library like Wiblingen’s. Markus Bacher has learned the lesson. His works constrain anyone looking at them not to dissociate the form from the idea. From their interaction, as Tarabukin asserted, is born a content that is more than just the tuning fork of the form. For my part, I have not attempted to interpret his works by their description alone, which would require a thorough study. I know that one cannot transpose one aesthetic means into another, as said before so many of our contemporaries, by Otto Pächt. I can only arrive at a conceptual overview of what the artist gives me to see. And here it is striking. Like when we listen to a Mahler symphony. The form embodies a content or rather fills with heterogeneous contents that establish it as form and give it the strength of its visual impact. Focillon could be quoted here: “Sometimes the shape exerts a kind of magnetism of different senses, or rather presents itself as a kind of hollow mould, where the man pours sometimes very different materials, which they submit to the curve that the press, and so acquire an unexpected meaning. Sometimes the obsessive fixity of the same meaning adopts formal experiences that it has not necessarily provoked(6).”
But the intermingling here of the form and the idea is a kind of illustration of the pregnant significance of the vernacular characteristics of the art in countries with a Romantic culture. Even in works where the notes of bandstand music are included! As in the art of Markus Bacher where the colourful spaces of great baroque decor assimilate the images of video games. This meshing is less sensitive in formal configurations produced elsewhere. Let’s be clear: it is not about identity. But simply about what constitutes an “habitus”. In any case, the form finds, as always, its primacy. If it offered only agreed processes, the work would not “work”. Like Mahler in his symphonies, Markus Bacher seeks, in painting, by wayward paths, off the beaten track, what we see when we look at his works, that is to say what lifts us up and carries us away by its novelty, its “strangeness”. To do so, in these flows of glacial or incendiary colours – bearers not so much of an Apollonian dawn as of crepuscular presages from which anyway spring the sparks of incipient lives – this is necessary: “I tell you: one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star.”(7)
(1) Boris Groys, In the Flow, London: Verso, 2016, pp. 23-26.
(2) The notion of strangeness, estrangement, ‘strangeification’, has generated an abundant literature. I will cite neither Voltaire nor Freud, here. But I will refer the reader to Victor Chklovski, La marche du cheval, Paris: Champ libre, 1973 pp. 110-113. Victor Chklovski, “L’art comme procédé” in Tristan Todorov, Théorie de la littérature : textes des formalistes russes réunis, présentés et traduits par Tristan Todorov. Introduction by Roman Jakobson, Paris: Seuil, 1966, pp.76-97. See also Carlo Ginzburg, À distance : Neuf essais sur le point de vue en histoire, Bibliothèque des histoires, translated from the Italian by Pierre-Antoine Fabre, Paris: NRF, Gallimard, 2001.Impossible not to mention: Otto Pächt, “Aloïs Riegl” in Aloïs Riegl, Grammaire historique des arts plastiques : volonté artistique et vision du monde, p. XV, translation by É. Kaufholz, Paris: Hazan, 1978.
(3) Veit Loers, « Fantaisies of something » in catalogue Markus Bacher, Berlin : Contemporary Fine Arts, pp. 10-13, 2013.
(4) Bisson Frédéric, “Mahler prophète”, Multitudes,2014/1 (n° 55), p. 118-127.DOI10.3917/mult.055.0118. URL : https://www.cairn.info/revue-multitudes-2014-1-page-118.htm
(5) Bisson Frédéric, op. cit.
(6) Henri Focillon, Vie des formes, Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, 1934.
(7) Friedrich Nietzsche, Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra, trad. Henri Albert, Paris : Mercure de France,1909, p. 27.
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