The Austrian Cultural Forum dedicated an exhibition of contemporary art to the legacy of the composer and multidisciplinarian artist Arnold Schoenberg.
In 2003/2004, the Jewish Museum hosted the revelatory exhibition “Schoenberg, Kandinsky, and the Blue Rider,” which, among others, cast legendary Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) as a multidisciplinary experimental artist and theoretician. His work and philosophy have had a profound impact on several generations, including the artists featured in the splendid exhibit “Against the Specialist: Contemporary References to Arnold Schoenberg in Image and Sound,” which ran at the Austrian Cultural Forum through January 6.
The show is accompanied by a free newspaper filled with quotes from the eminently quotable Schoenberg, including this beauty: “That which is new and unusual about a new harmony occurs to the true composer only for such reasons: he must give expression to something that moves him, something new, something previously unheard of. His successors, who continue working with it, think of it as merely a new sound, a technical device; but it is far more than that: a new sound is a symbol, discovered involuntarily, a symbol proclaiming the new man who so asserts his individuality.”
“Against the Specialist” features numerous works by contemporary artists that combine sound and image in ways directly and indirectly referencing Schoenberg, who wrote in 1940, “I am opposed to the specialist.” Robert Howsare’s “Drawing Apparatus” features pieces of wood connected at one end to two spinning records and the other to a pen that creates a colorful drawing based on movement. The duo known as Depart (Leonhard Lass and Gregor Ladenhauf) have created the two-channel video installation “Cloud Chamber Diaries,” in which the viewer stands between two vertical monitors that are almost but not quite mirror images of themselves, as a scientist in a painted face attempts to make and control cloud formations (inspired by Schoenberg’s “War-Clouds Diary”). Kurt Kren’s “11/65 Bild Helga Philipp” is a silent black-and-white video that plays with optical illusions from an Op art work by Helga Philipp, while “Vergence Framed” combines colorful projections by Tina Frank with experimental sound by Florian Hecker.
Rainer Kohlberger’s video “Col” uses deliberate randomness in creating an endless visual loop based on Schoenberg’s “Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 16.” And in the lower level, Gerald Moser’s immersive “a question of space — a time to question” consists of light projections on ten thousand square feet of nylon string hanging from the ceiling in the darkness, as an eerie soundtrack plays; visitors are encouraged to carefully walk through the installation and lie down on the floor, where the images both comfort and energize, at times making it feel as if you’ve just shifted into warp speed and are roaming through space. “Nothing in culture is definitive; everything is just a preparation for a higher stage of development,” Schoenberg wrote, “for a future which at the moment can only be imagined, conjectured.” Some of the imagined, conjectured future, influenced by one of the world’s most eclectic and influential composers, can be found at the Austrian Cultural Forum as another new year arrives. (Mark Rifkin)