Leading German artist Tobias Rehberger challenges conventional notions of art with his confounding objects and environments. 'The bottom line, to put it very basically', he says, 'is ... what is art anyway?'Read More
This question reinforces his diverse artistic style and exploratory practices, which interrogate the ways in which art is created, presented, and interpreted. Rehberger was awarded the Golden Lion Award for best artist at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009.
Rehberger was born in Esslingen, Germany. He studied at the Städelschule in Frankfurt from 1987 to 1992 under Martin Kippenberger, who had a great influence on Rehberger's inquisitive and conceptual approach to artmaking. 'What he, in the end, taught me was that the centre of production of art is the doubt of art', Rehberger explains.
Spanning immersive rooms, towering sculptures, site-specific installations, and paintings, Rehberger's works mine the disciplinary fields of architecture, design, and art. Rather than focusing on a specific mode of artistic production, Rehberger emphasises the understanding viewers have of the art object in relation to its surroundings.
Using LED lights, glass globes, pixelated tableaux, or watercolour in his works, Rehberger brings mundane objects into new contexts to tackle concepts of transformation, perception, and awareness. Rehberger's work crosses dichotomous boundaries to undermine structures and definitions of what art really is.
Dazzle designs are a recurring theme in Rehberger's work. The concept of 'dazzle camouflage' was a tactic used during the First World War to make it difficult for soldiers to pinpoint a target. The theory of 'dazzle painting' was first introduced in 1914 by the scientist John Graham Kerr, who found that this disruptive technique did not make the ships blend into their surroundings like traditional camouflage, but distorted them in such a way that it made it difficult to track the course they were travelling on.
Rehberger uses this distinct visual technique in immersive settings and site-specific installations. The contrasting curves and lines break up the shape and outline of the objects, creating an optical distortion. In 2014, Rehberger covered the 1918 HMS President, one of the last three surviving warships of its kind, with a 'dazzle camouflage' print.
Rehberger brings this contemporary visual experience to different environments as well, such as cafés and bars. He uses a black-and-white colour palette, sometimes interspersed with bursts of colour, and a repeated geometric pattern to cover these everyday spaces with the striking all-over effect and to play tricks on the eye. The viewer is forced to question the ways in which they interact with, and experience, their world.
These environments, often reminiscent of 1960s and 70s design, do not need to be confined to the museum or gallery space, giving them a type of accessibility that also challenges the status of the art object in an age of commoditisation.
Rehberger's 'Vase Portraits' or 'Porträtgefäße' are part of an ongoing series that explores the boundaries between the utilitarian and the decorative.
For his first round of 'portraits', Rehberger created vases from materials such as glass, ceramic, and 3D-printed aluminium, and requested friends and other artists to pick out flowers for the vases without having seen them first. Each vase and floral arrangement represented the aesthetic and personal preferences of these individuals, becoming a 'portrait' of each person.
This tongue-in-cheek approach to the traditional still life painting allows Rehberger to transform a utilitarian object into a non-functional artwork, investigating the idea of the art object within a new context.
Other sculptures explore Rehberger's interest in both the aesthetic and functional qualities of art. As part of his ongoing 'Infection' project, he utilises practical materials such as Velcro and cable to create dynamic sculptures that move fluidly between industrial objects and sculpture.
Rehberger's solo exhibitions include Truths that would be maddening without love, Gallery Baton, Seoul (2020), If you don't use your eyes to see, you will use them to cry, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2019), and Yourself is sometimes a place to call your own, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan (2018).
His work has been exhibited internationally in solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Whitechapel Gallery in London, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The artist's works are included in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Serralves Foundation in Porto, among others.
Gabrielle Leung | Ocula | 2021