With Oscar Columno, Stefan Knauf (*Munich, 1990) presents his first solo exhibition at Robert Grunenberg Berlin. The artist is showing new sculptural works which are immersed in an extensive installation setting dominated by skeletal columns. Knauf examines the ideas leading to the stylistic and formal language of modernist interiors and their heritage, specifically referenced in the imposing spaces of bourgeois apartment buildings in Milan built in the first half of the 20th century. His explorations are backed by an interest in interiors as both projection screens and repetitive gesture. What is the self-conception communicated in the use of specific materials?
The prestigious spaces Knauf’s work points towards are typically clad in surfaces crafted from stone, fine wood and metal. The first work cycle on display in the front section of the gallery revisits these high quality materials. The artist arranges them as formal studies with classic proportions. Upon further exploring the show, the visitors witness a process of gradual dismantling, or rather an incremental gaze behind the facade: The premium surfaces are replaced with rough contemporary construction materials, such as drywall sheets and metal stud frames, which are transformed by the artist according to aesthetic considerations. Grooves segment the sheets’ surfaces, steel screws become structuring elements, metal rails emulate a rudimentary colonnade. These works that form this second cycle are meticulously crafted and maintain a sense of ‘noble’ formality and proportion. The supposedly pedestrian materials step out of their shadow existence as construction materials of an ordinarily invisible substructure and are themselves morphing into an ennobled surface on display. In his play of omission, exposure and upgrading, and the simultaneous building of a connection between a specific time in history and a contemporary condition, Knauf reveals the precious surface materials as construction elements of a fragile modernist fiction and uncovers a physical as much as a psychological supporting structure.
When designing the stately Milanese apartment buildings, architects followed the motto: “bela de denter, pei padroni, brutta de foera, pei mincioni”1 – “beautiful from the inside, for the owners/patrons, ugly from the outside, for the fools”. This dictum informs a certain bourgeois self-conception: Representation is directed towards the inside. Internal self- assurance weighs heavier than any outward-facing claim. The ever-same architectural gesture – i.e. the act of masking – perpetuates this self-assertion across all buildings, yet it must remain hollow. The infinitely repeated precious (projection) surfaces mounted to apartment walls obstruct proper introspection and thus underpin a mere fiction of the self – in fact, the bare planes mirror an ideological void.
In hindsight, the eponymous “Oscar Columno” may be deciphered as an early clue in Knauf’s double-deal: This generic, yet evocative name of a fictional architect offers a scaffolding for projections of grandezza and elegance. However, upon closer examination, the master’s name reveals itself as being nothing but a brittle surface – an ennobled construction material, so to speak. Here, the eternally unredeemed promises of empty Modernist gestures are already foreshadowed.
Text: Till Wittwer
Knauf’s works, previously on view during our group shows ‚Paradise is now. Palm Trees in Art’, and ‚Losing my Virginity’, comprise a broad spectrum of materials and substances from the construction and furnishing sector. Hereby, his interest lies in the aesthetics of materials and their culture. Knauf’s sculptures and wall paintings form material collages, which raise questions on taste and trends. What are the longings behind the choice of specific materials for architecture or furnishing? What does the proliferation of a material say about the taste and sentimentality of the place and time in which it was used? Knauf’s masterfully crafted, technically proficient sculptures combine forms and materials that achieve a delicate equilibrium while at the same time connecting questions of art history and aesthetics.