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Grand retrospective surveying the work of Walter Pichler spanning five decades opens in Salzburg
Walter Pichler, Großer Raum (Prototyp 3), 1966-67.

SALZBURG.- The Museum der Moderne Salzburg presents a grand retrospective surveying the work of Walter Pichler spanning five decades. Crossing the boundaries between architecture, design, and sculpture, Pichler was one of the most idiosyncratic artists of his time. From his early architectural visions across the series of Prototypes to his recently realized building projects, the exhibition shines a spotlight on an oeuvre that continues to inspire artists working today. The presentation includes a wealth of previously unpublished material.

A native of South Tyrol, the Austrian artist Walter Pichler (1936 Deutschnofen, IT, 1936—2012,Vienna, AT) first drew notice in the early 1960s with architectural designs and models that were as radical as they were utopian. The series of what he called Prototypes (1966– 1969) Pichler developed over the following years laid the foundation for an international artistic career that was virtually unparalleled at the time. Trained as a graphic designer, Pichler worked in sculpture and design, pushing the boundaries between these disciplines and architecture. At a relatively young age, he had work showcased in celebrated exhibitions and renowned museums: at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1967 and 1975), the 5th Biennial in Paris (1967), the 4. documenta in Kassel (1968), and the Austrian pavilion at the 40th Biennale di Venezia (1982). As his international reputation rose rapidly, Pichler, in 1972, retreated to a farm in St. Martin, a village in the Austrian state of Burgenland, where he worked in isolation from the art world to realize his vision of the ideal structures to house his sculptures. Still, he was regularly prevailed upon to present his work in museum exhibitions, submitting his art to the scrutiny of these institutions and its audiences. Beginning in the late 1980s, Pichler’s work was shown in a series of major retrospectives, for instance at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main (1987), the Austrian Museum for Applied Arts (1988 and 2011), and the Generali Foundation an Vienna (1998), or at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1998). Walter Pichler died in Vienna in 2012 and the exhibition coincides with his eightieth birthday.

The comprehensive retrospective the Museum der Moderne Salzburg dedicates to this influential artist proposes a new perspective on his early radical architectural designs and the iconic Prototypes series, which are considered here in conjunction with his design projects and realized buildings, including recent projects. Around 230 works, including a wealth of previously unpublished material, on display in the spacious galleries on level [4] of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg’s Mönchsberg venue illustrate the extraordinary range of the artist’s oeuvre. “Our longstanding close relationship with Walter Pichler—we worked together on several projects— and now with the Pichler Archive, and thanks to the permanent loan of the Generali Foundation Collection, which has the single largest collection of Prototypes, to the Museum der Moderne Salzburg enable us to draw from a wealth of resources for this retrospective, which also presents previously unpublished materials to the public,” Sabine Breitwieser, director of the museum and curator of the exhibition, underscores. “The exhibition is further enhanced by important works on loan from the artist’s estate and numerous other collections and offers visitors vivid impressions of Pichler’s buildings through films we commissioned specifically for this purpose,” the curator emphasizes.

Walter Pichler studied graphic design at the Bundesgewerbeschule Innsbruck and subsequently at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and contributed to the design of many important publications such as the influential journal Bau (1965–1967) and the first book on Otto Wagner; he worked as a book designer for Residenz Verlag for many years and, in his later years, also for Jung and Jung publishers in Salzburg. His early work as a creative artist is informed by postwar Vienna; he moved in the orbit of the Wiener Gruppe (Vienna Group) and the exponents of the so-called Vienna Actionism and was in exchange with architects, designers, and writers— many of whom went on distinguished careers—who congregated in cafés and bars to debate and refine their artistic positions. Extended study trips to Paris, New York, and Mexico left their mark on his early work, as did the social changes and technological innovations of the 1960s, whose influence is especially palpable in the iconic Prototypes. In 1963, Pichler and Hans Hollein had an exhibition at Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna, in which they presented manifestoes, designs, and models for suspended and subterraneous urban structures, calling the established conception of architecture in question. The two young revolutionaries were not especially interested in the actual realization of their projects; their utopianism masked a trenchant critique of the principle that “form follows function.” At that time a number of those works were acquired for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The Prototypes (1966–1969) got Pichler featured in magazines from Domus to Vogue and brought him almost pop star-like fame. Working with what were then novel materials—aluminum, and polyester—as well as pneumatic elements made out of PVC and audiovisual components, Pichler developed some of his most iconic works. The designation Prototype indicates that these pieces were laboratory creations—in fact, as Pichler once put it flatly, they were “made by hand on the kitchen table”—but eventually intended for automated serial production. The Prototypes were on public display at the 4. documenta in Kassel in 1968. The artist’s experimental approach to new materials and technologies was groundbreaking: works such as TV Helmet (1967), also known as The Portable Living Room, articulate Pichler’s critique of the way media and technology molded people’s world at a time when the Vietnam War was transmitted into living rooms and political art was in demand. In 1966, Pichler also designed the aluminum chair Galaxy 1, for which he took inspiration from the aesthetic and technology of space travel and car industry; it is now a classic of innovative design.

Starting in 1972, Walter Pichler planned and realized a series of singular buildings, initially on ten acres of land with an old farmhouse in St. Martin in Burgenland, an ensemble he had chosen as his new workplace and personal exhibition venue. Later building projects included the House next to the Foundry (1994–2002), the Platform above the River (1994–2014, realized posthumously) in the Eggental near Bozen, Italy, and the Passage in Tyrol (1996–2011). To help the visitors get a vivid sense of these complex structures, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg commissioned films that complement Pichler’s drawings and designs to offer insight into his work in architecture.

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