Edelbert Köb : Memorable Afterimages in a Maze of Signs

Edelbert Köb, 2000

There is hardly an Austrian artist of recent years who has conveyed visual messages of such formal autonomy, individuality, urgency, and distinctiveness as Peter Kogler. He has enriched our experiences and has created afterimages that have impressed themselves into the depths of our memories. Assuming that originality, that is, aesthetic differentiation, is one of the most important goals of every artistic work, this achievement cannot be valued enough and is not diminished by the fact that his work is primarily directed at confounding perception. Regarded in this way, it is really admirable that Kogler’s metaphorical language can assert itself as it competes against the extreme wealth of signs that plague us in a world dominated by economics and the media; particularly, since his metaphorical language simply consists of a few basic modules and symbols that have been taken from computer software, to which everyone has access.
The question arising from Marinetti’s demand that we decide-both aesthetically and ideologically-between the Winged Victory of Samothrace and a car is not of importance for an artist of this generation. In contrast to the euphoric futuristic belief in technology and progress, Kogler’s fascination with the rapid development of the media is-as a consequence of events during the last century-associated with a certain skepticism. His computer-generated metaphorical worlds are not optimistically affirmative and do not have anything in common with the colorful and confusing games of the first generation of computer artists. His modular elements, which as a rule are strictly kept in black and white and which first present themselves hieratically and monumentally, take on-often then mutationally-a really disturbing life of their own. They obscure bodies and walls, deconstruct rooms and architecture, confound our ability to grasp the truth, and are on various metaphorical levels statements about the state of our world.
Again and again, his seemingly formalistic approach turns out to be ambivalent. The computer as a tool obviously serves the artist as a filter. It allows topics to resonate, of which-because of emotive and improper usage-we have become suspicious, and it also finds new formulations for such topics.
Kogler too has a special position among that group of Austrian artists who were the first to consistently orient themselves internationally and for whom Duchamp, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, and Pop Art were the main points of reference. Among them, Kogler is the «most American». However, his Americanism is most probably not only due to a study visit in the USA-in the meantime a must for every young artist. After all, the intentions of the painters of the New York School had already been nothing less than to break with European traditions. Therefore it was obvious that a young Austrian artist with similar plans and ambitions should make this (already historic) discourse the starting point for his work, a discourse that has also led to fifty years’ supremacy of US-American art.
Coming from painting, Kogler first adopted the tendency towards a large format, the tendency to use a color and a form continuum that fills the whole surface, and the rejection of conventional compositional principles: the picture in the sense of Pollock as a compact field open to all sides («all over») that can be continued theoretically and practically ad infinitum. This principle was later to become a central part of his work.
The process of purification undergone by US-American art was radical. Kogler is one of the few European artists who consistently followed up on the demythologisation of art and the expulsion of false beliefs from art. This move includes the tendency to mix «high» and «low» as expressions of feeling alive that are determined by the need to intensely participate in the world, to live through things, and to create things. The result is an existentially alert style that is emotional and yet controlled, objective and appropriate in its expression, and that is far removed from any form of l’art pour l’art, speculative provocation, and intellectual self-admiration. His art is direct, frontal, challenging, classy, and self-confident-characteristics that the minimal artist Donald Judd describes as being «significant for American art of the sixties». Peter Kogler’s work is not a variant of this art. It is a highly independent creation resulting from a related theoretical frame. Just as pop art makes use of the aesthetics of commodities, Kogler makes use of the aesthetics of the media and the availability of prefabricated patterns, signs, and symbols. Just like the Americans, he does not draw a formal conclusion from Duchamp’s concept of the readymade. His conclusion focuses rather on matters of production and technology. He takes up, so to speak, Duchamp’s offer to free art from work and draws his art material-ready for use and user-friendly-from industry. For this reason, this procedure might also be called ennobling banality. Like pop art, it renounces any aesthetic claims to being educational by simply creatively confirming everything that is possible in new technological frames. In so doing, Kogler belongs to a long line of twentieth-century artists whose project is to redefine the relationship between art, technology, and life.
Considering the aforementioned points of reference for his art, it is not surprising that if we summarize the reception of his work, Peter Kogler might also be seen as the embodiment of «coolness» and as the master of smooth and perfect surfaces. However, art is the métier of fine differentiation and not of pithy simplifications. Kogler’s method of appropriating reality, that is, of transforming it into art, is, if we take a closer look, most complex. Beginning with a strategic positioning in the sense of Buren and the conscious limitation of his language to an emblematic language consisting of a few signs of great formal succinctness, he develops an intelligent, multi-layered system of applications with numerous references. In the end, this system is non-ideological and open. It allows him to participate in discourses covering almost the whole spectrum of problems in modern art. Kogler’s international successes and national recognition – the latter not being free of the reservations that come from his «foreignness» in the context of local traditions-are the result of the disproportionate and one-sided reception of his numerous spectacular spatial installations, to a less degree the result of his video projections and more so the wallpaper works that have become his «trademark». The original intention of the exhibition in the Kunsthaus Bregenz was therefore to present for the first time the whole content and medial breadth and variety of his work as well as the inner logic of this development in a kind of retrospective. On the one hand, the artist’s treatment of the architecture of the Kunsthaus finally resulted in a reduction of the exhibits in favor of an exemplary interaction of art and architecture. On the other hand, Bregenz is the first site of a representative retrospective of selected important works from all of Kogler’s topic areas and work groups.