Safety Curtain 2013/2014

Conversation with Oswald Oberhuber

Hans-Ulrich Obrist: How did you come by art, how did art come to you?

Oswald Oberhuber: It already started in primary school and since then it’s been clear for me. Actually it came by way of music. At home the only real inspiration was literature.

HUO: What were the first influences?

OO: Barlach and Picasso. The sculpture by Picasso was decisive while the sculptural principle – the exaggeration of the figures – was very much Barlach, though later on I was to abandon it completely and propagate the sculpture which is no longer mass and flat.

HUO: You work with sculpture and in architecture, you draw and paint, you design posters, you are a curator and you write.

OO: I took on postmodernism when the term hadn’t even been coined yet. It wasn’t only my opinion that modernism had been overcome and no longer existed but also that you could proceed in a completely different form, that anything was possible. A language which was much broader than this style related procedure.

HUO: This year’s curtain is dedicated to our friend Josef Ortner for whom you were a mentor and his inspiration for the founding of museum in progress. Could you say something about the invitation to the opera?

OO: I am a fan of baroque music, the French composers in particular – Lully, Rameau, Charpentier and so on. They are my big favourites in music. So, that’s what I’m interested in very much but also in modern music and I also like the other classics.

HUO: And what was on your mind when you were invited to design this year’s curtain? 

OO: The first thing that came to mind was the reason, the fact that the concealment has a meaning: to hide from view the picture of someone who during the war imposed a ban on painting and went after artists in an immensely aggressive way. 

HUO: Your work for the opera has something of a musical notation. Generally, your more recent work consists of extremely simplified abstractions.

OO: These drafts are all a product of chance but with a clear focus on aesthetics. I place great value on beauty. A lot of people won’t see that. For me it’s the only aspect I learned from Willi Baumeister as a young student: that the abstract painting has to be beautiful if it is to be understood. I agree with him: The non-objective image becomes comprehensible through its beauty. 

HUO: How can beauty be defined?

OO: By the presence of total harmony even though that’s a matter of feeling which not everyone possesses.

HUO: What’s your latest work? What are you working on right now?

OO: Someone asked me if I could draw a bird which doesn’t look like a bird. So, yesterday I made several drawings of a bird which isn’t a bird.

HUO: What’s your advice for young artists?

OO: Not to tie themselves down but to try out everything. That has always been my principle.

The conversation took place on August 31 2013 in commemoration of Josef Ortner.

Translation: Jacqueline Csuss