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Tonio Kröner was born in 1984, in Datteln, Germany, and develops his work between Germany – he currently lives in Berlin – and Austria, where he has had frequent exhibitions. This exhibition represents the zenith of a residence at Maumaus, in Lisbon, and is an exercise in multifaceted transgression. Tonio Kröner unfolds himself, without ever compromising, between the role of the artist and that of the curator. Above all, he highlights the supradisciplinary role of the individual, which is positioned at the point of tension between nostalgic revivalism and a more refined contemporary practice.
His production is hardly categorizable. What nourishes his work is the consistency of the critical gesture before the institutional apparatus and before the artistic praxis itself. He does not allow himself to be imprisoned by current critical discourses – issues related to gender, feminism, ecology, decolonization or the contestation of the neoliberal economy based on consumerism. For not being committed to the dominant themes, Tonio Kröner’s work is original and refreshing.
Despite the fact that his work is galleristic, there is transgression in this exhibition, by presenting one of the pieces at the Maumaus offices in the centre of Lisbon, far from the gallery. The intention seems to be to preserve a material connection between the artistic residency and its materialization in the exhibition in the gallery. Tonio Kröner refuses any purism. He uses three materials that do not intersect in the natural world: the large scale paintings, in connection with the disciplinary past, a poetic text by Alexander Milne, which shows the surrealist restlessness and permissiveness; and, finally, two puppets, apparently rescued from The Muppet Show, which help to desecrate art and to highlight popular art.
The Lumiar Cité gallery is not an easy space for an artist used to the white cube. In a pastiche between gestural abstraction and the final expressionism of the seventies and eighties, Tonio Kröner occupies the walls with four large pink paintings, applying the oil stains, with wide gestures centred on the shoulder, on raw jute canvas placed on a visible aluminium surface. With this anachronism, he questions the rationalist progress typical of post-Cartesian modernism, entrenched in the artistic movements based on manifestos, which animated the century of the vanguards and whose ontological condition was the inevitable obsolescence. By recreating, in 2019, exercises of a movement that ended before the birth of the artist himself, Tonio Kröner refuses this modern flow and the linearity of Art History. It shows that there is an essentiality in artistic practices capable of surviving the western course of history. These paintings are more than a quotation. They are a violent and provocative appropriation that establishes ties that oppose the irreverence of the artists who, in the sixties, fought for content and concepts, against the formalisms of the vanguards defended by Greenberg, removing the “plastics” from the arts and opening unlimited paths to the artistic production that would follow. Alexander Milne’s poem, presented in its entirety as the title of the exhibition, and printed on a small poster facing the outside in the gallery’s window, acquires a different meaning from the original printed in a book. It has operational value. It is a tool for deconstructing the taciturnity that marks much of today’s artistic production. And it makes the exhibition a space endowed with animated freedom.
Tonio Kröner builds a dialogue of articulations and substitutions, where psychology would have much to say. The reupdating of the imaginary of the seventies, with the presentation of two groups of objects produced in a mannerist process admitted by the postmodern condition – the paintings and puppets – is an interplay of intimate senses. A gesture where the pastiche of objects is more than a quotation, it is rather a substitute for an imaginary full of nostalgia for a time that the artist ironically did not live. He can only relate to it through historiographical mediations. This exhibition speaks to us, without any fatalism innuendos, of the fascination for a loss, of the reassessment of a heroic time, where painting was unlimited, in its dimension and expressive freedom. From a time when the popularity of a television show led by puppets was unimaginably viral, at a time when one did not dream of the reach and speed of the Internet.
From a semiotic point of view, the exhibition has a fruitful contradiction, which is the core of its meaning: the objects that Tonio Kröner decides to use as signifiers do not refer us to a linear meaning, but to a remote meaning, unfolded into a plane of self-expression (the original paintings and puppets of The Muppet Show) and a plane of autonomous content (the meaning of each of these objects in their seventies context). It is here, in this permanent switch of the planes of meaning, that Tonio Kröner’s merit lies. Visiting the exhibition is mandatory.