Review: Roland Kollnitz and Hermann Bayer’s Chance AcquaintanceAll photographs courtesy of 21er Haus, main image by Belvedere, Wein, 2017, lead image by Belvedere, Vienna Design Features Visual Arts
Chance Acquaintance, which closed on June 25 at Vienna’s 21er Haus (pronounced aiyyn-oond zvan-zig-err-hows for the non-German speakers reading this review), was an example of a good idea executed poorly. The show was meant to be a kind of dialogue between the works of the painter Hermann Bayer and sculptor Roland Kollnitz; since both artists’ works make use of angular, geometric shapes and angles as well as bright primary colors, there was immediately some potential in the concept. Since Bayer passed away in 2012, a direct conversation in 2017 would have been impossible to execute, so the next best thing would have been for Chance Acquaintance to highlight certain overlapping or similar formal elements amongst the works of the two artists, thereby creating a satisfying—or at least, an interesting—visual experience. I believe that the curator of this show was ultimately trying to achieve that kind of synthesis, and there were a few scattered moments of the show where smart curatorial decisions did lead to some appealing rhyming of motifs and shapes.
Yet on the whole, Chance Acquaintance never really gave itself a chance to be more than a lackluster display of some truly beautiful paintings paired with some less-notable sculpture, united not by a kind of posthumous encounter or deeply-considered delving into the artists’ philosophies, but by considerations that did not extend beyond the immediate surface level. The exhibition information page on the 21er Haus website states: “a similar usage of forms and sensitive use of diverse materials are common to both artists.” Frankly, on a critical or curatorial level, this sentence is so vague as to be functionally useless, since it could be used to describe pretty much any combination of any artists who worked in multiple media.
The seeming overall lack of detail and concern paid to Chance Acquaintance extended beyond the promotional materials for the exhibition and into the gallery space itself, as well as applying to the general ambiance of the experience. Located on the lower level of the 21er Haus, the show space was next to the museum’s restaurant, meaning that there was already a glut of background noise coloring the viewing experience. The space itself almost looked as if the show were in the process of being deconstructed as I walked in, with no wall text to be found, and a hastily-made list of works resting on one of Kollnitz’s sculptures. Indeed, the lack of wall text was particularly infuriating given that the map of the space in the packet with the list of works was hand-drawn and clearly photocopied several times, making figuring out which work was which more difficult than it really needed to be. According to the accompanying text, Chance Acquaintance isn’t even a particularly good title for the kind of show the 21er Haus was exhibiting, as Kollnitz apparently took the opportunity to organize and place his sculptures in concert with the Bayer paintings, with no representative of Bayer’s present—a studio assistant or former collaborator, for example—to add input.
There were definitely formal similarities in color and in shape that lent credence to the overall conceit of the show: Kollnitz taking inspiration from elements of Bayer’s paintings and incorporating them into his own sculptures. The juxtaposition on the back wall of the gallery space between an untitled Bayer painting from 1978 and Pinsel Stück, a 2016 wall sculpture by Kollnitz, is where this premise actually worked: the painting and sculpture made use of the same shades of blue and white; several compositional elements of the painting formed an inverted v-form while the sculpture itself was in the shape of an inverted v; and, cleverly, one of the legs of Pinsel Stück’s v actually contained a paintbrush, linking it back to the medium of painting itself. This pairing was likely a microcosm of what both Kollnitz and the curator of the show hoped that Chance Acquaintance would ultimately express, but it is only this one juxtaposition that has any promise.
In essence, the space looked like Kollnitz made off with about twenty or so paintings by Bayer and set them up in his own studio amidst a number of unfinished sculptures. Bayer’s works gained nothing by being put into this ersatz studio configuration, and Kollnitz also came off less impressively as a result. Indeed, Bayer’s paintings, which were often dazzlingly bright and made use of sculptural forms in a dynamic way, deserve a show all their own, and it’s disappointing that Chance Acquaintance apparently comprised Bayer’s first-ever museum showing. Ultimately, the visual connections between Kollnitz and Bayer are tenuous enough that their pairing didn’t bear much fruit. Putting Bayer in conversation with an painters like Hockney, whose palette is similar, or with Kandinsky or a member of the Suprematists, where the compositional comparisons and contrasts are more evident, would have been much more successful; similarly, Kollnitz would have paired better, perhaps, with Pistoletto’s mirror paintings, as Kollnitz does often make use of silvery metal forms that echo Pisoletto’s palette.