Gerhard Rühm (b. 1930 in Vienna) has throughout his career developed his work in numerous different media, venturing out into many different fields and dimensions. Beginning with music he was educated to be a pianist passing through poetry to visual arts and performative works, his oeuvre has grown to encompass an exceptionally broad spectrum.
To celebrate the 80th birthday of this multifaceted artist, the MUMOK
presents a selection of his works spanning his entire career up to his most recent works. Pieces from the 1950s and the 1960s are shown along side with the Scherenschnitte [paper-cuttings] from the 1980s and the Reizwortzeichnungen [literally: stimulus or inflammatory word drawings] that he has been working on since the beginning of 2010. More than half of the works are from the permanent collection of the MUMOK, which has grown with the purchase of a set of works in 2007 along with a generous donation made by the artist.
In the context of the Wiener Gruppe
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Rühm belonged to the Wiener Gruppe, an informal group of friends who were writers that included H.C. Artmann, Friedrich Achleitner, Konrad Bayer and Oswald Wiener. They all shared a common fundamentally experimental approach that rejected classical descriptive literature and understood language as a kind of material with which one operated, exploring its potential as such. This approach led them through language and literature into a broad range of different media, combining and linking them together, leading to such performative works as the legendary literary Cabarets. They thought that language was not an adequate instrument to describe reality or even to make valid statements about it. Language is rather a medium that is used to produce realities, and in this regard, it can and is often used as a repressive instrument of power. With this in consideration, the language material was used outside of its traditional function of making a proposition or statement. Released from their lexical, syntactic and semantic contexts, sounds, letters, words and text passages become materials that the artist operates with for the sake of their visual and acoustic qualities.
Between the Constructive and the Spontaneous
Gerhard Rühms use of language and in the same vein his visual works are shaped by strict constructive-conceptual methods and by an openness to the potential of spontaneous expression. In his sound poetry, number poems, typewriter ideograms, type collages and constellations, letters, punctuation marks, numbers, words and text passages are arranged according to mathematic-constructive principles such as logical-serial or permutated composition methods but also according to subjective-formal criteria.
Other visual elements such as lines, colors and found material from newspapers and magazines enter into the color poems and text pictures, with his photo-montages devoted exclusively to the latter. His text drawings fuse the handwritten calligraphical figure with gestural drawing. And in addition to this, Rühm also works with language elements in three dimensional, sculptural form.
Rühms made his Scherenschnitte during the 1980s. This technique that originally came from China, and became popular in Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was interesting for Rühm in part because of the visual puzzle effects of inversion that it made possible. While the Scherenschnitte were used in the 19th century to make precise representations of people, animals and plants they were understood as coming closest to the actual shape because they were taken directly from nature -, Rühm however would not limit the shapes to figurative
representation, but rather also make abstract, both geometrical and subjective, free forms. And with this undefined way of reading the work, the spectrum of possible interpretations is further expanded.
With this series of collage-drawings that have been made since the beginning of this year, Rühm has again returned to using words, sentences and images taken from newspapers and magazines. In response to these stimulus words he offers answers that function explicitly with the basic means of drawing: lines straight or bent, short or long, solitary or together, gently or vehemently drawn points, empty or densely packed surfaces, etc. These pages provide further points for complex interpretation and, as is often the case in Rühms work, are also full of explicitly erotic insinuations.