about zing


john connelly
luis macias
gavin wade
brandon ballengee
elizabeth cohen
thomas rayfiel


helmut lang

helmut lang

lousie bourgeois, jenny holzer helmut lang • the vienna kunsthalle

The triple collaboration exhibited at the Vienna Kunsthalle has no name ascribed to it per se, other than those of the artists themselves: Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer and Helmut Lang, but one could easily coin the name, “Mirror Mirror” if looking for a catchy title.

And there are mirrors. Lots of them. It is a study in which we are challenged to define how we view ourselves, as well as how others view us. The lion’s share of the exhibit, housed in the huge rectangular Kunsthalle at Karlsplatz, is dedicated to the works of Louise Bourgeois. The room accepts the works unconditionally, allowing one the ability to view the works in this large space, perhaps as the artist intended, with the feeling of being alone, isolated to deal with the age-old questions of “Who am I? Who are you?”

Her central work, “The Cell”, is a circle of twelve oval mirrors, each approximately twelve feet tall, standing on end. Three of the mirrors are set into a permanent position while the others freely rotate. These mirrors are not like those we look into everyday, which are smooth and clear. These mirrors are rough, unpolished, some concave, some convex, like mirrors made in ancient times. One may step inside of the mirror circle and sit down or stand outside of the circle and walk around it, but wherever one looks they are confronted with a somewhat distorted vision themselves. The different reflections put us in the mind of a sort of refined funhouse where the imperfections are exaggerated and we are moved to accept ourselves just so. Madame Bourgeois uses the name “Cell” quite frequently when referring to her works, the usage of which can refer to the smallest molecule of life or a place of solitary, sometimes penitentiary, reflection, such as a prison cell or a monastery.

Accompanying the larger “Cell” are twelve much smaller sculptures which Madame B. also calls “Cells”. Again, one is struck by the loneliness depicted by these spartan sculptures of chairs placed in various positions within a small, bare room, or, yes, “Cell”. Through the positions of the chairs we are to recognize if the relationship is exclusive or inquisitive. You are again confronted with yourself and yourself in relation to others. The sculptures have been photographed to form another portion of the exhibition: the holograms, flat squares that become 3D upon viewing and seem to project themselves outward towards the viewer. They are bathed in a blood-red color which seems to radiate an intense light. For Madame B., red signifies passion, indicating the emotion she adjoins to the subject of self.

Jenny Holzer’s contribution to the exhibition is the use of words as an art form. In the same hall adjacent to Louise Bourgeois’ large mirrored “Cell” are ten granite/marble benches arranged in a circle. Engraved upon each one of them is an innocuous-seeming phrase that, however, conveys an ominous, disturbing message. Statements such as, “If you want to get to know someone real quick, throw a glass of milk in their face and see how they react.”These benches are also of a dark, old, blood-red color. The statements cause one to contemplate and seem to be invitations to challenge the norm and others’ perceptions of who we are by stepping just left of the line.

On the wall next to the benches, we find another Holzer work. There is a long, rather thin LED display running vertically along an area of approximately twelve feet, “The Text Blue” it is called. Fluid and moving, almost frivolous against the permanency of the non-moving granite/marble benches, the implausibility of the stone. Again we are confronted by text that is of a slightly provocative, even instigating, nature.

Fashion designer Helmut Lang’s contribution is placed against the right-hand wall next to the Holzer benches. It is a large red glass piece, which also worlds like a mirror. In the middle one sees the playback of several Lang fashion shows, but they are muted and out of focus so that it takes a while to realize that the movement you are seeing is not random but rather models on a runway. This recalls once more the question of self and how we view ourselves. Our concern with how others view us is brought to the forefront through the connection to fashion and image. While watching this almost ghostly “Fashion Show” being replayed, the mirror effect of the glass places our own reflection in the forefront causing us to become the dominant figure in this work.

The exhibition gets its message across in an unencumbered way. The age old question of self-identity is omnipresent in the human existence, making it a theme that is perpetually exciting to confront through art.

Nanette Dillard

Vienna, Austria