Ways of Seeing Abstraction:
Tobias Rehberger, Untitled, 2000

Most people still understand abstraction as a concentration on form. It is viewed as an art movement which is used to express aesthetic ideas, orders, philosophical ideas or inner feelings, but which does not have much to do with everyday reality. However, especially in times marked by crises, relevance and urgency are also expected from art, and it is expected to make a statement on current social issues. Today, artistic commitment is not conveyed exclusively through clear visual messages and content, but increasingly through abstraction. For younger generations, in particular, non-representational art is the means of choice for addressing politics, religion, and social issues. Showcasing works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the exhibition “Ways of Seeing Abstraction” at the PalaisPopulaire undertakes a thoroughly subjective survey of international abstraction from postwar modernism to the recent present, documenting the diversity and discursivity that lie behind the idea of non-objective, “pure” form. On the occasion of the exhibition, our series will show you works by artists who use abstraction idiosyncratically and define it in new ways.

Tobias Rehberger, Untitled, 2000
© Tobias Rehberger

The ornamental stripes with the golden yellow dots evoke the abstractions of dawning modernism, slimmed-down versions of Wiener Werkstätte and Art Deco design. But they also echo the pop wallpaper that was put up in apartment hallways in the 1970s. Where a mirror normally hangs resplendently, a neatly framed, hand-painted section of wallpaper can be seen—a picture within a picture. Tobias Rehberger has repeatedly explored the boundaries between painting and design, questioning the rules and rituals of art production and the market.

This is also true of this early work, in which he alludes to the role of the artist as decorator and interior designer. Why does the wallpaper remain a utilitarian object, while its framed section is fetishized as visual art? Already at this stage, the Städelschule pupil and student of Martin Kippenberger and Thomas Bayrle was developing strategies for fashioning entire rooms with reproducible design. He commented on this as follows: "This form of wall painting can still be done 500 years after my death." In 2009, he won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for his design of a cafeteria, a geometrically shimmering room which he wallpapered with the stripes and dots of a British Navy camouflage pattern from World War I: Op Art as a war weapon. Rehberger succeeds in drawing viewers into the artwork and entangling them in the contradictions of art.