Georg Ettl – Early works from 1960s and 1970s

Jiří Švestka Gallery Berlin

September 17th, 2016 – November 5th, 2016

Contemporary art often asks the question: What are things and how do we co-exist with them in our world? It takes into account the autonomy of objects that are created, exist, pass through different situations and cease to exist, just like us. Simultaneously, there is also the matter of material, its properties and physical effects. And this is also the case of actual artworks that often play many different roles during their existence.

Georg Ettl’s artworks also played many different roles from the end of the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st century. Starting with the dynamic environment of American art at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s influenced by minimalism, material art and conceptualism and ending with the local West German context of the 1980s and 1990s combined with the postmodern atmosphere of that time. Therefore, it is very hard to define Ettl’s artwork, using the traditional classification of art styles and movements. Yet, his artwork embodies an unexpected homogeneity and internal logic and shows clear intellectual starting points related to the initial humanities that he studied in Paris and the USA, as well as the playfulness and irony associated with them. It is the very moment of interplay manifested in his working with shapes, materials and later on with adopted figurative forms that represents the important aspect of his artworks. In principle, it is, however, rather a structured, analytical and combinatorial play that is more typical for conceptualism than for postmodernism. His artworks from the 1960s and 1970s often intercorporate both modern construction materials, such as cement, formica or acrylic glass, and traditional wood, marble and the most exclusive material – gold leaf. Analogically, his objects also combine the minimalistic austerity of a specific geometric object with archetypal forms, such as the step pyramid, polygon, etc., that have been a part of human culture since time immemorial. The interplay between transparent acrylic glass and the structure of hard cement and stone or between the solidity of a geometric object and the soft unboundedness of feathers creates an optically and physically perceived link between viewers and the object occupying the same space with them. Starting in the second half of the 1970s, the mentioned figurative elements became a part of this interplay while remaining the subject-matter of the analytically perceived and playful analysis.

Georg Ettl’s interest in tension between the physicality of an art object and the intellectual abstraction of a form represents a steady line of all his artworks. At the same time, we can see that it is a product of his experience from both worlds. His artwork seems to teeter, straddled over the Atlantic Ocean, between the freshness of American art, experienced in its unburdened topicality, and the cultural-historical heaviness of European tradition. This is perhaps its specific value, thanks to which we can even nowadays look at the seemingly defined story of the art of that time through today’s eyes.

Viktor Čech

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