Bruchteile (Fractions) is a two-part oil painting that was created in the public galleries of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The unusual collaboration between the two artists, Jeremias Altmann and Andreas Tanzer, meant that they not only had to paint simultaneously but also under the restrictions of a museum setting. Jasper Sharp, adjunct curator for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, talks to the artists as well as the photographer Barbara Herbst on how it felt like to paint in front of Titian and where contemporary art meets antiquity.
Photo: Working portrait Fractions no. 2 Barbara Herbst, 2018 © Photograph: Barbara Herbst
Jasper Sharp: Maybe we start with a very basic question, namely, could you talk a little bit about your involvement with the Kunsthistorisches Museum to begin with?
Andreas Tanzer: The connection to the Kunsthistorisches Museum was already there for a long time. After we had turned our attention on the KHM independently, it seemed obvious to enhance this focus in our cooperative project grey time.
Jeremias Altmann: Certain questions in fine arts will always remain the same. It therefore made sense to get an overview of the answers that earlier generations of artists claimed for themselves. For the series grey time, first the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities and later also the Picture Gallery served as an incredibly rich collection of inspirationfor the painting Bruchteile in a broad sense.
Jasper Sharp: You both work simultaneously on the same canvas. What brought you to the conclusion that this could work? Do you suggest something before you do it or do surprises happen directly on the canvas?
Jeremias Altmann: I am not sure whether we really had the expectations that it would work. Perhaps there was just curiosity as to how we could fail – maybe even the hopes for a conflict.
Andreas Tanzer: Collaboration can be seen as a chance to break out of the usual internal monologue. Working in pairs creates something like a dialogical reaction.
Jasper Sharp: Don’t you have different responsibilities within a painting? Like the way Rubens and Snyders would share a painting but they would each have different expertise within a composition.
Jeremias Altmann: It is not a conscious decision. Of course, by now we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses but often it is important to not consider that in order to really develop a joint painting style.
Jasper Sharp: Are there situations where one of you will finish passages of the painting that the other one has begun? Do you have moments where you struggle with something and you literally help each other out in terms of completing a certain passage of the painting?
Jeremias Altmann: The ideal situation would be to find a balanced mixture between assistant and opponent in your partner. This is the only way you can really enjoy working on the canvas together.
Andreas Tanzer: We are hopefully mostly fighting and bickering while we paint because these very moments entails the unknown, which is something that needs to be explored. As we never divide painting areas nor techniques and as there is always the allowance to paint over of each others “parts”, it’s hard to tell when something was completed and by whom.
Jasper Sharp: How many painting were created in the museum…just this one, the diptych? Were all the other paintings made alone in the studio?
Jeremias Altmann: All works before and after Bruchteile were created outside the museum – in our studios, the print workshop and some other locations. Due to different reasons, the general atmosphere can always be described as uncomfortable. Apparently, that’s what we need.
Jasper Sharp: Was it a difficult atmosphere to paint in the museum? Just I mean… it’s quite a confrontation when you put a canvas up in front of Titian. There is, whether you like it or not, an element of confrontation there.
Jeremias Altmann: Of course this leads to a confrontation but I would consider it ridiculous to see myself in direct comparison or even in competition. We were well prepared for this. On the one hand, we know the pictures in the museum well enough to make a precise selection for reasonable paraphrasing. On the other hand, both of us are experienced in working in front of an audience.
Barbara Herbst: Bruchteile is the exception to the rest of the series, which was created in a “non-public” space. Therefore, the question of context emerges in many respects. Where and when is an artwork created? In what setting will these contemporary works be displayed? Which new connections arise from this?
Andreas Tanzer: Here in the museum, you are restricted. It is not possible to dip the brush into liquid colour and splash it onto the painting… leaving grey marks on the Titian at the same time. Even though Bruchteile seems gloomy and dystopian, at least for me, this work is one of the tamest pieces of the whole grey time series.
Jasper Sharp: The palette and this grisaille were obviously there from the start. Is the reduced amount of colour a decision influenced by the fact that there are two people collaborating on something? And if you reduce the palette, do you also reduce the chances of clashing with each other… maybe even subconsciously?
Andreas Tanzer: Colour is a sensitive material. There are trends through different eras of painting, which are defined by the dealing with and the use of particular colours. Colours define a lot. Colour often displays ambiance and time too. By reducing the palette, we try to escape a temporal classification.
Jasper Sharp: I think it does two things: on the one hand it establishes a link with the past, the grisaille, but on the other hand it also removes any specific kind of anchoring to any time or place. It’s simultaneously ancient and modern. I think the palette opens up a kind of relationship to photography. Maybe Barbara can explain how and when she got into this project.
Barbara Herbst: I was involved in the project from the very beginning when Bruchteile was created here in the museum. I have known both artists for quite a while and I accompanied them, from time to time, with my camera. Therefore, it was obvious to take photographs while they work here in the museum. The photographs, however, are not intended as “mere documentation”. They carry their own unique style; have their own pictorial language and atmosphere. Different elements were being captured: the emergence of Bruchteile, the collaboration of two artists, the inspiration and the location. Beyond that, numerous variations of time come into play: the time fortakinga photograph in contrast to the time it takes to paint a picture; the time in which the picture is painted, which draws inspiration from other times. The series of photos covers a whole period of time. With every single photo, it is possible to grasp a lot of time, which exceeds the visible space and the moment. Therefore, the accompanying photography very quickly made sense. They extended aspects and integrated perfectly into the project without talking much about it from the beginning.
Jasper Sharp: When you began this painting, was the atmosphere that you were attempting to capture already clear? Did you already establish certain ground rules or certain intentions in terms of the atmosphere? It has a very particular atmosphere. On the one hand is feels like the apocalypse, or… you know, what happens after the tsunami goes back out. It has something extremely final to it in terms of a place of civilisation. On the other hand it has something fantastical about it and it feels like a Spielplatz for animating stories. So it feels quite fertile as well. It’s this kind of ambiguous atmosphere; something that you established through conversation before you even started painting.
Jeremias Altmann: The atmosphere of the painting was already determined to a large extent by the collection of historical pieces and that was quite clear to us after our first tour through the museum. None of our previous paintings aimed at directing the audience or us towards a clear temporal placement. However, the instinctive reflex to do so is always a strong enough indicator to proceed. In case of Bruchteile, the passing audience already offered a variety of interpretations during the painting process. Starting with a tribute to antiquity, over to the dismembering of renaissance painting, through to observations of current politics and finally tragic fantasies of the future.
Jasper Sharp: The painting has a very inherent violence to it. The moment you see anything broken, one senses a certain act of violence. Its sense of theatre is very clear because these bits of architecture were used as theatrical props in the first place and you recycled the theatricality somehow.
Jeremias Altmann: Jasper, do you have a clue in which artistic movement our painting could be classified in in twenty years in retrospective of our present day?
Jasper Sharp: I feel that in the last few years artists have returned to more classical genres of paintings, giving them a new twist – still life, portraits and landscape. I would rather assign Bruchteile to history paintings, which would normally be pretty much in the center of the salon-hanging-hierarchy. So, it doesn’t feel for me like a foreign object in a landscape of contemporary art. I think that the elements of confusion and of the enigma in it are very contemporary but at the same time this stands in a long tradition. One can read this picture in many different ways and it’s so abundant and rich in possible meanings and I don’t think it pushes our readings into any particular direction more strongly than another. I feel that what you have done in this painting is that you opened fifteen different doors through which the viewer could walk but you haven’t prescribed one single door to walk through. There are many different ways into this picture and there are many different ways out of this picture. So in that respect, it does what good paintings should do (something which began in the renaissance and contemporary art picked that up a lot), which is involving the viewer, making the viewers own experience and what they bring with them part of it’s reading. There is also pessimism in contemporary art for a number of years and it has a political quality to it. The painting has something totally pessimistic and glorious and tragic to it, but it also contains references to thousands of years of achievements: architectural achievements, formalistic achievements, and material achievements. The diptych Bruchteile is a massive contradiction in itself and in that respect it does feel quite of our time.If there is something that I feel quite strongly in art that is being made today, then it is the sense of inherent contradiction in work.
Jeremias Altmann’s work is determined by the serial examination of different topics, to which he develops his own visual language. In the series YOUNG PROPHECIES, the artist reconstructs his own childhood drawings. At the same time, Altmann is enthusiastic about the inner workings of technical equipment and their morphologic changes over time, which became the starting point for the series MACHINES. His series EAR COLLECTION and HARD WORK question traditions of classical portraiture and the universal approach to artistic production. In addition to numerous other excursions into short film and installation projects, Altmann is dedicated to showing his work internationally; most recently in the Saatchi Gallery / London, his work has been shown in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, India, Canada and China.
Born in 1989, Jeremias Altmann studied graphics and printmaking at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Since graduating in 2015, he mainly works in graphics and painting. Jeremias Altmann lives and works in Vienna. www.jeremiasaltmann.net
Photo: Jeremias Altmann © Photograph: Barbara Herbst
Andreas Tanzer situates his artistic work in the pictorial world between the moment of transience and the human aspiration to preserve life. Death, its overcoming and living-life characters, is what drives the depth of his work – as seen in the series “Transience”, which was created in 2016. The seemingly living, the preserved and the attempt to sustain life are the thematic focusses of Andreas Tanzers’ work. As memory is fragmented by perception and that the trained eye distorts it, the artist uses cultural-history as well as religious rites and symbols to approach the unclouded view. The cohesion of his work is seen in the use of picturesque languages and their ingenious composition. Since 2013, Andreas Tanzer works in collaboration with Jeremias Altmann on the series grey time.
Born in 1987, Andreas Tanzer studied painting and graphics at the University of Arts in Linz, which he graduated in 2016 with distinction. Tanzer studied drawing and applied arts in Bristol at the University of the West of England in 2015. His works have been exhibited in England, France, Austria and Russia. Andreas Tanzer lives and works in Vienna. www.andreastanzer.com
Photo: Andreas Tanzer © Photograph: Barbara Herbst
The photographic work of Barbara Herbst is characterised by her unique eye, devoid of generalisations. In constant proximity to graphics with their diverse forms of application, Barbara Herbst pays special attention to the seemingly casual. In her pictures, she explores atmospheric miniatures of everyday life, the poetic potential of architecture and people at work. With her sensitive interest in materials and surfaces, her photographs often appear as photo-objects with a clear reference to analogue printing techniques. Born in 1967, Barbara Herbst studied art history, classical archaeology and philosophy at the University of Vienna. Besides her activities as an art educator and lecturer in the field of cultural education, Herbst has worked for many years as a freelance photographer in the field of tension between analogue and digital camera techniques. Barbara Herbst lives and works in Vienna. www.barbaraherbstphotography.com
Photo: Barbara Herbst © Photograph: Jeremias Altmann
The above interview is a shortened excerpt of “Im Gespräch mit Jeremias Altmann, Barbara Herbst und Andreas Tanzer”. The full interview is available in german in the grey time exhibition catalogue at the Kunsthistorisches Museum shop.
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26–29 September 2019
Marx Halle Vienna