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Lucas Gehrmann | Paths to Happiness. Notes on Patrick Baumüller Cooking up Images Around and Without „Dough"

„BUY!", read an appeal in a speech balloon hovering above a small loudspeaker (in 2005). All the bigger for not being audible, it addressed visitors to the OSEI department store at Vienna's Brunnen Market. It was too late, however: The shelves had been emptied and taken down, the clanging of the pickax resounded in the crumbling concrete skeleton of the post-war era department store with its Eastern Bloc charm. In its last days, the house attracted a new type of target group, namely the art crowd. Its owner had opened up the nostalgic, patinated setting to artistic interventions but special offers such as Patrick Baumüller's in-situ mural were hardly going to increase sales; because instead of providing hammers and chisels to visitors (subject to payment) so they could knock out a piece of OSEI wall and add it to their own art collections, in front of his work the artist set up a barrier made of tubes from frameworks that formerly supported shop shelves. Thus, the impossibility of following the appeal he expressed so forcefully was manifest in a twofold manner. But there is no question about the fact that our „econociety"1 system requires us to keep on buying (albeit somewhere else) to make life worth living. That is why the title of Baumüller's most recent installation at Michaela Stock's gallery in Vienna's Schleifmühlgasse, a bustling artsy downtown street, is a quite logical one: „Ohne Marie geht auch hier nichts!" ("Same Here, No Dough, No Go"). "Marie" is, of course a female name, particularly in (Catholic) central and eastern Austria, however, it also carries the colloquial meaning of "dough" or "the wretched money". But again, the artist makes it difficult for us to reach into our wallets, which by now have been hit by the global financial crisis. We would be better off trading its inflation-prone contents for (as yet) cheap art than for any kind of speculationprone assets: On entering the gallery, visitors are likely to first be attracted to a tinted glass door that is positioned in their line of sight and marked with signs reading: „No admittance to persons under 18 years of age", „Video surveillance" and „Pull". Arriving at the door, we think we can make out behind it a gambling room with a gaming machine installed on the right hand side. Legitimized as artistically inclined visitors to the gallery and, thus, cleared of any suspicion of being affiliated with a
play-instinct driven society of losers, it seems that, for once, we too can finally indulge in invoking a little luck and giving it a try.

But there is no doorknob or handle, nothing we could „pull" to gain access to the small gambling den. Alas, there is no
way to get in: We have to stay outside. Thrown back into our role as viewers (of art), we can't help but remember that we are exactly that – and as we try to take a closer look through the closed glass pane, we are rewarded with a goody: Curved in the
style of neon lettering, a dolphin shimmers through tinted glass from the floor of the small room. But what is it that this universally popular animal has to do with profane gambling? Taxing the image archives of our brain, we could be reminded
of a Greek Syracusian coin, the reverse side of which shows four dolphins in a round dance. And from here, it's only a short step to evoking an association with Delphi, the Greek seat of the oracle. Oracles and promises of a blissful future quickly prove
compatible – but there is an easier approach: Those who have seen Patrick Baumüller's 2007 contribution to the Lower Austian „Landpartie 2" („Country Outing 2"), an art project in a (public) landscape space, have encountered this motif before.

„Orakel von&mit Delfin" ("Oracle By&With Dolphin") consisted of an inflatable pink dolphin hanging from three fishing rods that were firmly fixed in the ground. Floating in the air at head height, it turned and swayed in the wind. Even if this oracle (just as the one in the current exhibition) shows differences from the Delphic original with regard to form, setting, and staging, there are also some parallels: In ancient times, a woman from Delphi was chosen as the „Pythia", who was allowed to prophesize. „During her prophecies, she sat on a tripod in the adyton of the Temple of Apollo. Incense was burned during these sessions. The Pythia chewed bay leaves and put herself into a trance. She sat behind a curtain and uttered her inspirations. Due to her intoxicated state, her words could become unintelligible and it was then incumbent on the priests to translate the prophecy." Viewer here,
interpreter there. Here's another important aspect in this context: „Over the centuries, the (Delphic) priests built a close-knit network of informants across the entire world that was known to them. That way, they were remarkably informed about the political situation, not only in Greece. Thus informed, the priests were able to formulate prophecies accordingly. The priests left the interpretation of prophecies to those who had come for advice."2 The two and a half millennia that have passed since have not changed much in this respect: Ladies and Gentlemen, put your trust in the competence of your gallery, its curators, and artists, which is ensured through international art networking, and, at the same time, decide according to your personal taste!

Incidentally, things revolved around „Marie/Dough" back then, too: Those who wanted to consult the oracle had to reach into their pockets first – and may have pulled out a tetradrachm with four dolphins...But let us return to „Marie" and Patrick Baumüller's irritations: Standing in front of the closed gambling room door and looking to the right, we see a painted mossgreen
wall with a large-format photographic work on it, which shows cactuses and an inscription: „I am afraid of being bored". This statement – anyone who paid attention in school will remember – was uttered by Marie Antoinette or, to be more precise, ascribed to her by Stefan Zweig in his novel about Emperor Maria Theresia's youngest daughter3 who allegedly spent her life ignoring sociopolitical reality and being hyperactive about entertainment policies. She met a bitter end on the scaffold at the hands of the sans-culottes. Could it be that the exhibition is about this Marie? Which is to say Marie Antoinette as a historic „protagonist" of the masses of debauchees craving sensations, consumer goods, and lifestyle products? The John and Mary Doughs who came after the I-can't-get-no-satisfaction-generation, thrived on the culture medium of the adventure and entertainment industries, were fired up by pop culture, destabilized values, earned a stable-income, and acted egomaniacal
on all fronts? Possibly hinting at a potentially bad ending of such a superficial buzz of activity? Maybe one of the kind that has now descended upon us after top possible prices had been negotiated for „values" without real equivalent value?
First, it should be noted that the artist developed the concept for his exhibition, including its title, prior to the declaration of the global financial crisis in the media in the late fall of 2008. As he has been working on the phenomenon of the instability of values for a longer period of time than many an economist and analyst, his „visionary" view of the current situation may not come as a surprise. For instance, anyone trying to get to a higher floor from the lobby of Oesterreichische Nationalbank (Austrian National Bank) in Innsbruck has to climb a couple of stairs with banisters whose handrail proves highly uncomfy due to its sharp-edged, jagged structure: Patrick Baumüller created it from shredded bank notes and fashioned it into the shape of the downward curve of the Dow Jones Index on "Black Tuesday" of 1929. So, this is a kind of „memento mori" for bankers and brokers of all stripes, set up in 2005 and titled „Fix is nix" ("Nothing's for Sure"). At the time, pundits were talking about the end of the „instant-gratification society"4 but hardly anyone believed that an equally abysmal Black (Fri)day was imminent.

Of course, other artists, too, have tackled the subject of capital (and art) markets ahead of the new crisis. Without doubt, this was done most excessively by Damian Hirst, as Richard Kriesche recently pointed out: „In the small field of art, Hirst unsparingly exposed the global crisis-like character of the capital system and, at the same time, fairly and squarely exploited the art system in accordance with the rules of the capital game. [...] Taking quantification to another level, he created the most expensive work of art of any living artist to the tune of a reported 75 million euros."5 Kriesche goes on to explain, which strategies Hirst used to achieve such a price tag for a work of art, the real value of which (i.e. the cost of materials used to create it) is usually close to zero. These are creative strategies of the bluff (even if high financial or material „stakes" are involved) just as much as they amount to evasions of the ostensibly fixed rules of the art market. In short: His art consists not of his works of art, but rather, it is found in the analysis and instrumentalization of the „absurdity of the economic reality [...] of an ecstatic, out-of control capitalization market".

Patrick Baumüller focuses not so much on capital as a vehicle to render the relativity of values transparent (if we leave aside the „former" value of the shredded bank notes, which had actually been reduced to their „paper value" as well). Quite to the contrary, he mostly works with simple materials and means, which are directly linked to real objects of everyday life. In this spirit, he has referred to himself as a „practically minded avant-gardist" whose practice not least includes tying and casting invisible nets. As much as Baumüllerian objects may at first be reminiscent of Arte Povera, they prove highly complex when we probe their image-generating potential.They open up to us links to real and surreal, experienced and imagined things and contexts, and there's no doubt we are invited to spread out further nets in our minds. At the „Ohne Marie geht auch hier nichts!" exhibition, black spiders extend this invitation from the ceiling of the exhibition room; as they themselves have not spun any threads yet, they most likely hint at the potential links between all exhibits – the ones not mentioned here are depicted or discussed on other pages of this catalog.

1 The term econociety denotes „today's global, world-generating economy and its effects" and was coined by
Gerald Nestler in his 2007 book „Yx. Fluid Taxonomies. Enlitened Elevation. Voided Dimensions. Human Derivatives.
Vibrations in Hyperreal Econociety". Vienna, Austria, Schlebrügge Editor, 2007.
2 „Das Orakel von Delphi. Geschichte und Bedeutung". At: www.meinebibliothek.de/Texte5/html/delphi.html.
3 Stefan Zweig: „Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman," first published by Viking Press, New York, 1933
(Original German Title „Marie Antoinette. Bildnis eines mittleren Charakters", Leipzig, Insel-Verlag 1932).
4 Cf. for example: Gerhard Schulze, „Die Erlebnisgesellschaft: Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart". 2nd ed.: Campus Verlag, 2005.
5 Richard Kriesche: „Die Krise des Marktes als Kapital für die Kunst", in: Der Standard, Feb. 14/15, 2009, p. 39.



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