Matters of Life & Death

7th July - 25th Sept 2011


Bernhard Lehner

Bernhard Lehner
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Bernhard Lehner

The most obvious thing about Bernard Lehner’s work is perhaps the fact that it leaves all current categorisation by the wayside: in place of the Holy Grail of the disciplines of painting, photography, sculpture, video and performance, the distinctly ‘un-artistic’ medium of instead enters into his work.
Over the years a two-fold audience reaction has emerged: an immediate enthusiasm for the object, particularly for its immediate qualities is stronger that an unwillingless (and perhaps also an inability) to grasp the experience and to then to ‘ennoble’ it through reflection and theory.

Because Bernhard Lehner broadened the spectrum of his work in his younger years to include objects, including labels such as ‘jewellery’ and ‘furniture’, he has been able to describe and qualify his work since this youthful time as ‘Craft’. In this way he has ploughed his furrow: Not only genealogically does Lenhers work come from Stock, the Stock was already there and without decoding the element of Stick, one becomes overtaken by conceptualism.

Whenever one meets Bernhard Lehner, he has one of his sticks with him: metallic rods that he has embellished with lace underwear, with a barbie doll as the head; a shark’s spine as the stick’s spine; a decommissioned pistol could serve as the head or an artificial hip joint; materials are as likely to include valuable materials such as ebony as found objects from flea markets. The Stick, one can immediately ascertain, is Lehner’s Leitmotiv; but the stick is more than just a conspicuous accessory: It is not just jewellery, the costume of the artist promising his playful role, it is essential to him. The current costume of artists – Warhol’s silver wig, Beuys’ hat and waistcoat – were only signatures that merely served to …. Art: these referential functions did not confront them because the artist cannot travel into the social arena with his art: the Warhol prints, like the Beuys installations were despite contrary intentions not ultimately destined for the sacred rooms of the Art world – gallery and museum – as their natural environment. As soon as they were placed in a conventional context other than the street or the pub, the artists were no longer present in their art and so the accessories of the great artists always refer to their absent art.

One must ask oneself why Bernhard Lehner, who has cultivated relationships with art collectors such as Helmut Seiler or Tom Biber for over a decade, obstinately refuses to participate with artists such as Thomas Zipp, Markus Selg, Andreas Hofer, Markus Oehlen and Jonatha Meesd (they all possess a stick) in the contemporary renaissance of painting. There is a quick answer and a sophisticated answer to this: unlike the stick, painting in unwieldy. If one asks whether Lehner is obviously committed to not creating unwieldy work – Lehner’s body is known to be his primary exhibition space, that stands for the sticks, as much as the jewellery, and latterly for the somewhat unwieldy furniture, so one must stand back and take a look at art history of the last century: fundamentally, there is a paradigm shift from epistemological to social. Large parts of classic modernity possessed an epistemological impetus: cubism trained the eye to see the central perspective, abstraction led to a non-representational reality; futurism injected dynamism into the static image, surrealism entered into the realm of dreams.

The shift in emphasis from the epistemological to the social started from the middle of the 1960s: Warhol’s Factory was not just responsible for the mechanisation of the art production process, it was also an unpolitical collective of lunatics and volunteers. Martin Kippenberger’s late work  The Happy End of Franz kafka’s Americaexplored like none of his other work the role of the social and the position of the individual in the collective.

All of these explosions of the artist’s individuality in society inevitably failed due to their protagonists remained as revised role models: as the mythological ‘I’. The artist in modernity does not differentiate between Art and Life; both are inseperable. The artist creates not just work but also himself. Correspondingly, the social environment of the artist is always a patriarchal characteristic. The more people that are brought under the spell of God and take part in the production processes, the brighter the God shines. Kippenberger understood that this was the crux of the matter and he strove to deconstruct the image of the mythological ‘I’.

Our continuing fascination with Bernard lehner’s work could be rooted in our sense that we can now begin to see the path from Art back into Social: what lies behind the inspiration for a toy formula 1 racing car which, with its wheels removed, creates the form of a crucifix and wears a chain? Why does the artist wear a skull carved out of a block of Lego bricks? Now, these objects are not unwieldy. They allow themselves to be integrated into the everyday, without having a purely useful purpose. They spare us not only the path into the sacred rooms of the Art world, they also spare the artists the digital social life towards which the Art world is currently thundering: either, it is inside in the art world busines centres, in museums, or it is outside. In order to transcend this poor social world, this either-or, Bernhard Lehner has discovered his Stick. The Stick exists in a literal sense and with Lehner’s body. Art, now removed from the walls, is constantly to hand. The same stands for the ‘Jewellery’: a heavy necklace made from a sawn up tap is neither about form nor material; it is simply a new work that is being taken out this evening. The ‘furniture’ is a further step along the long path to the resocialisation of art. How does one dispose of original works in galleries and museums? One draws art into ones own life with tennis racquets that serve as towel rails, with chairs made of Langlauf skis, or coffee tables crafted from windsurf boards.

Peter Renner