This is Martha Jungwirth’s first show with Gallery Cinzia Friedlaender, Berlin.
The painter, who received the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2012, has
consciously managed to evade categorization throughout the course of her career, which
spans almost half a century. The works on view in this show were created between the late
Nineteen-Eighties and the early Nineties, and represent her use of an abstract figurative
style at a specific point of time in her oeuvre.
The works on view in the gallery are painted in oil on cardboard or hand-made Indian
paper mounted on canvas. Jungwirth chooses materials that expose the accumulated patina
of their previous usage and which react to the paint differently than a canvas. The
paintings pertain to a specific tradition that places itself – knowingly and, perhaps,
defiantly – in the murky waters between abstraction and figuration. Here, compositions as
well as the different ways in which the paint is applied to the surfaces, both hold a
dual significance as ends in themselves but also as carriers of meaning, or mediums of
representation. They also relate to the artist’s interest in the mirroring of a process.
Gestures captured on the painted surface speak of the corporeal presence of the artist
but also of one’s struggles (physical at times) with the possibility of giving aesthetic
form to immaterial substance, transitional mental states, observations, yearnings and all
things not easily expressed with words.
In 1968 Jungwirth formed, together with fellow Austrian artists Franz Ringel, Peter
Pongratz, Wolfgang Herzig, Robert Zeppel-Sperl and Kurt Kocherscheidt, the group
Wirklichkeiten (Realities). She was the only female artist in the group. The movement
formed around the notion of negating the two leading artistic strands dominating the
Vienna art scene at the time: Art informel and the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.
Their claim was for a more socially relevant art, which leaned toward realism and was
often peppered with satire and social criticism. Stylistically, however, there was no
artistic concept that united the six members of the group, and the formal ties that
united their work were rather loose. Even during her involvement with the Wirklichkeiten,
Jungwirth’s paintings have already oscillated between abstraction and concrete
representation and, in the Nineteen-Eighties, her work became increasingly abstract as
her approach to painting as a medium focused on formal aspects of the practice over
theoretical or thematic ideas.
Though inherent to her work, the figurations in Jungwirth’s paintings can sometimes only
be discerned in relation to titles like “Selbstportrait” (Self-portrait, 1987). But the
paintings do not lend themselves to finite readings, and oftentimes the titles confuse
rather than suggest a possible interpretation. Nevertheless, approached without any
attempts at deciphering, as the title of the show may encourage the viewer to do with its
promise to be “devoid of pedagogical value”, a more intimate and disarmed engagement with
the works might materialize.
Works from the same period were recently on view in the show “Martha Jungwirth, Albert
Oehlen, Matthias Schaufler” at Galerie Hammerlehle und Ahrens, Cologne 2012, which
highlighted the formal links between the three artists, belonging to three different
generations. Jungwirth’s works were also included in the recent show “SCHÖNES
KLOSTERNEUBURG”, 2010, which featured a new hanging by Albert Oehlen of works from the
Text: Hili Perlson