Tobias Rehberger, And the Rest should be squandered, Galeria Pedro Cera

The questions of definition, boundaries and functionality of art have always been at stake in the sculptural artworks produced by the artist Tobias Rehberger and his atelier’s assistants and collaborators in Frankfurt-am-Main.

For this third exhibition dedicated to the works of the German artist, the Pedro Cera Gallery is showing to the Lisbon public a series of colourful, eye-catching pieces, which tend to puzzle through similar interrogations. We all have in mind his well-known 1990’s series of handmade vases containing a type of flower, each vase conceived as a singular portrait of a fellow artist. Those artworks only reached completion through the collaborative act of the selected artists who would place chosen flowers in their vase, as the flowers and gesture become integral part of each piece. Combining materiality with conceptual approach, craftsmanship with technical reproduction process, manmade formally defined objects with natural organic components, Rehberger, in the continuity of Rodin, Marcel Duchamp and Ellsworth Kelly, consistently arises the question of whether when and why an object does turn into art or not.

At the intersection of modern abstract sculpture, Hard-edge Colour Field painting and design, the collection of floor pieces, presented as empty vases or “mothers without child”, can be described as standardised egg-shaped modular structured installations with smooth surfaces and impersonal unvarying paint application. Under the formula one egg unit, one colour field, each sculpture presents a unique composition of repeating units and chromatic interactions. The everyday utilitarian objects (the vases) are here transformed into evocative human-scale empty art pieces, which aim again at challenging the traditional yet lively cliché about the non-functionality of artworks. But if, in a Bauhaus spirit, the 1990’s vases series promoted and performed the idea of functionality when including flowers within the art pieces, the actual objects, being deprived of any content, don’t realise their potential functionality and as so are said to be incomplete. The humorous and provocative titles about the manly, the crooked, the greedy, the sketchy, the swanky mothers without a child, together with the egg-shaped forms that multiply as rhizomes, building up the sculptures in height, evoke at first degree the traditional yet lively reduction of women to the reproductive potentiality of their body. Whether ironically criticising or simply assuming, the untoward metaphorical association of incomplete vases with “mothers without child”, bringing up therefore the vague idea of “unaccomplished women”, is obviously created via those value judgment titles.

But beyond the unfortunate literal meaning, which it is difficult to escape once it was perceived, we are willing to think of art itself as constantly sprouting, as relentlessly giving birth to and generating other art forms. The appropriation, assimilation, adaptation and transposing of classical design and modernist visual styles, shapes, patterns and motives being central in Rehberger’s creative productivity, we are guided towards the question of birth and life cycles within the art flow, the history of arts. In order to be fertile and to (re)produce, would art somehow need to be more feminine, generous, uncorrupted, genuine and thoughtful, or simply empty?

Tobias Rehberger, “And the Rest should be squandered”, at Pedro Cera Gallery – on view until January 4th, 2020.

Katherine Sirois is a Canadian art historian and freelance writer born in Montreal. Trained in Arts Studies at the UQÀM (Mtl), where she worked as a research and teaching assistant at the History of Art Department, she did her first doctoral studies at the EHESS (Paris) with Daniel Arasse, then at the Aesthetic Department of the Paris I-Panthéon Sorbonne University and at the Art History Institute of the Nova University of Lisbon. She is part of the editorial team of the contemporary e-magazine Wrong Wrong and co-curator of the Portuguese Ymago project for the dissemination of authors in the field of images. She recently joined the Umbigo Magazine team of contributors.

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