DE/EN

Peter Wächtler

Ad Astra

31.08–17.11.2019

What makes us recognize good art? The fact that it is shown at a Kunsthalle? That it is expen- sive and beats auction records? That it is being collected? That celebrities buy it? That magazines feature it? That we understand it? Or that we, precisely, do not understand it? That it demonstrates skill? That it is beautiful and we like it? That it goes viral and is commented upon globally? That it provokes and inspires? All of these questions could be answered in the positive with regard to Peter Wächtler’s art, yet it also seems indifferent to those criteria.

Peter Wächtler, born in Hannover, Germany, in 1979, lives and works in Berlin. He writes texts, produces films, draws, paints pictures, and makes sculptures and objects. The human figure is central to all of his work. It appears in various forms, attitudes, poses, and interactions, just as it does in real life. Peter Wächtler’s artwork betrays neither fear of figuration—nor any undue trust in it. Here, the figure is not, as so often, revered and exalted, but it is also not critiqued or satirized in endless grotesques. It is, quite simply, inescapable, and it strides or stumbles, it is being manipulated and defeated; it overestimates itself and yet cannot be overrated. This is just as tragic as it is comical, and it is this inner tension that Wächtler’s oeuvre devotes itself to. Yet the commitment to this uneasy balance of the tragicomic is easier announced than it is accomplished... or, for us as viewers, tolerated.

Today we find ourselves in an era where the human body has become the subject of passionate discussion—in debates around gender, identity politics, or with regard to artificial intelligence. In this context it may feel unsettling that Wächtler’s work, in a seemingly old-fash- ioned manner, renders homage to the human figure: that wretched thing on its existential journey into the unknown, lost between self-doubt, exaltation, and irony. Ah, yes, those were the times! Except that those times never existed. Fact is, that now and then Wächtler’s art plays with our emotions—when it attracts and then immediately withdraws again, as if it didn’t trust in anything, least of all itself. Or perhaps we are not approaching things from the right angle? Should we take a more distanced approach to this work? Rather than talking about “the human figure,” “stories,” or “atmosphere,” how about if we were to discuss “rhetoric,” “analy- sis,” or “metaphor” instead? For here we are confronted with a pictorial world that expertly manipulates language, that messes with presentation just as it does with artificiality—and then adds in a healthy dose of a kind of crotchety objectivity. Sure, superficially one could draw a connection between Wächtler’s work and German romanticism or the golden era of the Weimar Republic, or one could locate it in relationship to the output of an artist such as Otto Dix. But that would be relying on a stance of all-too-comfortable nostalgia. Because, more than per- haps immediately apparent, Wächtler’s artwork is committed to the contemporary moment, to its confusion, its wishes and uncertainties, which Wächtler pursues by way of exhausted motifs: For it is easier to recognize oneself in the past and its outmoded expressions. As such, Wächtler’s art consistently observes itself in the act of formation—ecstatically, incredulously, with abandon, and a sense of embarrassment.

As mentioned, there is no reluctance in Wächtler’s texts and artwork regarding stories and their telling. But is this joy in spinning a yarn really and end in and of itself? In 2012, Wächtler published the short story The Set followed by, in 2014, the (sadly out of print) anthology Come On, and now, five years later, Jolly Rogers is being released. The volume emerged in the con- text of the artist’s solo exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall at the beginning of 2019 and arrives just in time for the opening at Kunsthalle Zurich. Jolly Rogers is a collection of the artist’s latest short texts that operate like vignettes to a larger story. Only that the latter never really reveals itself—perhaps because it doesn’t, in fact, exist or maybe because it isn’t actually necessary? Regardless, the stories are structured in such a way as to convey the impression that they belong together as fragments of a larger whole. We don’t see the forest for the trees. Each indi- vidual text, each single work, articulates itself by means of an intense focus and one constantly feels oneself too close without being able to escape this proximity. It is as if we were suspend- ed in a continual zooming motion, as if the artist and author wanted to tell and show all. But alas, such is life under the microscope: always larger-than-life, but at the wrong scale at a time driven by individual interests, self-optimization, and egos that stage themselves simultane- ously as victims and disruptors.

As diverse as Wächtler’s works may be, they are consistently characterized by a hermetic quality. Basically, Wächtler produces a classic setup à huis clos: a locked-room or Kammerspiel situation. “Huis clos” is not only the title of Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal novel (No Exit), but describes settings in which—similar to the strictly controlled setup of a science experiment—a film, story, or theater play unfolds in a hermetically sealed environment such as a submarine or the eponymous locked room. The huis clos format’s current relevance lies in its base premise resembling a kind of bubble. Yet, whereas today’s bubble, especially that generated in the world of social media, is geared toward disengagement, the huis close setup lends a forum to the active confrontation of differences.

Ad Astra, Peter Wächtler’s exhibition at Kunsthalle Zurich, features a recently completed film, and three sculptural works. These latest works by the artist, and the sculptures in particu- lar, demonstrate how Wächtler himself masters this narrative of closure: Four oversized fountain pens, formed of plaster, circle one another, as if writing letters in space, drafting unknown texts, words into the air. They are completely unrestricted within the confines of a strictly defined radius—not unlike the way poetry functions by creating semantic density in a tightly confined space. Untitled (Vampire), Wächtler’s latest film, features the artist as the vampiric protagonist. As an undead and immortal creature that lives off the blood of others the vampire today represents a classic representative of bubble-culture. Everything revolves around him and his world, his desires and lust, never mind the forces of garlic. Perhaps the vampire is even emblematic for the figure of the artist? Or art in general? It, too, conceives of itself as immortal and hovers in a realm between life and death; it, too, has to be revived by us time and again by way of contemplation, reading, listening, and recitation. As such we are its lifeblood. And like the vampire, art, too, is predatory, parasitic, introverted, narcissistic, mean, and sometimes perverted. And most of all: it just keeps on going. All of which are reasons why we love it so much.

All works courtesy Peter Wächtler, dépendance, Brussels, Lars Friedrich, Berlin, Reena Spaulings, New York.
Thanks to the galleries and The Antontio Dalle Nogare Foundation, Bolzano

+

Press information

For image inquiries, information on the exhibition program and interviews contact Aoife Rosenmeyer: presse [​at​] kunsthallezurich.ch oder +41 (0)44 272 15 15
Agenda
September
Tu 10.09.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 17.09.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 24.09.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
October
Tu 01.10.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 08.10.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 15.10.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 22.10.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 29.10.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
November
Tu 05.11.
18:30–20:00
Yoga
Tu 12.11.
18:30–20:00
Yoga