Galeria Filomena Soares presents the painting exhibition Schönwetterstresss by the Austrian artist Herbert Brandl (Graz, 1959), from September 22nd to November 12th. The opening will take place on September 22nd (Thursday) at 9:30 pm with the presence of the artist. At the time, a catalog will be published with a text by Luísa Soares de Oliveira and the images of paintings and monotypes presents in the exhibition.
Of panoramas, speed and changing images
Since the early 19th century, panoramas - wide-angle, sometimes 360º depictions created for public entertainment - had known remarkable success in the cities of the West. Rendered on giant canvasses, these impressive depictions usually portrayed historical scenes that visitors would view from a stationary platform. Great battles, public executions and events of every sort were displayed over enormous surfaces in an appropriately designed space that sometimes featured mechanisms enabling the scene to move, and special lighting effects that allowed the audience to experience the thrill and emotion sparked by reliving events from times gone by. A famous Parisian panorama, now long gone, still lends its name to the Passage des Panoramas, built out of steel and glass, that today houses luxury retail shops and fashionable design galleries. It is widely known that Walter Benjamin1, the great thinker and proponent of the modern, was enthralled by this particular type of aesthetic experience that the modern man could enjoy in these types of spaces: experiences characterized by the inconstant, the fleeting, and the ongoing change in visual referents generated by the artificial lighting and its reflections on the glass that covered the passageways and galleries.
Today it is taken as fact that these early panoramas and other similar curiosities of the day occupy a well-defined place in the pre-history of cinema. From the experiential point of view, the effects on the viewer that panoramas strove to achieve are not conceptually far from those that today's blockbuster movies strive for, even though those earlier attempts lacked the refinements of today's editing techniques, and though most of them probably used an artistic grammar that was still in its incipient stages. One of these panorama canvasses, which is still preserved in the Hermitage Museum, attempted to take the viewer on a trans-Siberian journey, with the room decorated like train compartments, where the spectators sat while different landscapes paraded past windows made to look like those of the original train. This panorama, which thrilled audiences at the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900, was peculiar in that it eschewed any fictional historical recreation, preferring to highlight distant, exotic landscapes instead. There, before the very eyes of the Parisians of the Belle Époque, was the Siberian tundra, which had previously only been accessible through descriptions and depictions in newspapers, books and paintings. In other words, they were images which, up to then, had only been accessible to a wealthy, cultivated minority; and here they were, within touching distance, the realistic confirmation of a faraway, almost inaccessible landscape that no-one had experienced first-hand before.
Predictably, the panorama phenomenon, which ended with the advent of moving pictures in the late 1800s, shares a certain family resemblance with the effects Herbert Brandl uses in his paintings. Brandl often makes use of oversized canvasses, which he populates with landscapes or landscape fragments that provoke in the viewer perceptions that are not solely visual. As in the Siberian train ride recreation described above, Brandl eschews action (which in the past took the form of sensational events gleaned from history and current newspaper accounts), concentrating on recognizable landscapes that are easily identifiable such as mountains which, he once said, arose from an unnamed sensation, and which evoked in him the exact kind of painting he had known as a child.2 But he also shows us spaces that straddle the border between two worlds: swamps, deserts, bits of forest. Often, he makes use of photographs as an archival tool. On other occasions, it is the spectator who is left to identify what he is shown, not as a type of geographic image, but as a clear reference to the history of painting itself. The color, the patches of paint, the type of brushstroke and their relationship to the conception of each work, disclose a genealogy that becomes more evident as we explore Brandl's body of work.
However, unlike the panoramas of the 19th century, and even though the Brandl lures us toward a kind of thrill and excitement akin to those attractions that so enticed the public of the past, in Brandl's work the spectator is met with a collection of images that unveil the history of landscapes from the beginning, but above all from the modern period of the 19th and 20th centuries i.e., the point in time when he personally became tactilely enveloped in that type of painting. Also in contrast with those works of the past, it is not the exoticism or scenario-like features that influence Brandl's choice of image, but their ability to evoke that "personal archive" he spoke about during a major exhibition at the Serralves Museum, where he first displayed his work in Portugal. They are recognizable images that hark back to an inner archive which encompasses the entire history of painting - even if it is no more than kitschy photos endlessly repeated on every possible type of surface and immediately apprehensible to everyone; where every image becomes significant, even when the painter is primarily concerned with the relevance it has within the overall context of his work. As is the case with this series, Brandl often includes works done on previous occasions for other venues and social settings. He reuses them within the context of new series, thus establishing a link between each new series and the ones that went before. These older paintings are on permanent display in his studio while he works, and act as a ‘foundation ground'3 for his newly-created images. In other words, his whole body of work proceeds as an unbroken flow of images, which, despite apparent differences, form a coherent whole that surpasses temporal boundaries. It works precisely as an archive or - more accurately - a museum where the flow of history is condensed into one single space that houses several styles, genres and epochs in history within the short span of time the viewer's visit takes.
The museum: according to Arthur Danto,4 the post-modern is characterized by viewpoints of history that are radically different from those propounded by the modernists. There is no longer the compulsive need to subjectively obliterate the past and kindle the new and different. Even when the idea is to transform it into a striving for eternity, the contemporary perspective aims to cohabit with the very history that museums present as both a consumer good and source of inspiration. Herbert Brandl's work falls within this new perspective. In it we find both references to representative landscape painting and other forms he has of exploring sensitive space by filling it with his own artistic authorship. In other words, the two strains of landscape art developed throughout the classical and modern eras harmoniously coexist in the artist's work. On the one hand, there is there is a capturing of the world of nature through painting, and on the other, the projection of human life onto that world: the Dutch and English landscape painters on the one side, and Caspar David Friedrich on the other. There is a reconstitution of the light's refraction in the spectator's retina, as imagined by Monet on the one hand, or the quasi-naïf watercolors of 19th century explorers and Pollock's sensitive, tactile spaces on the other. Once again we have the whole history of landscape art up to the bold, authoritarian brushstroke that Brandl uses in his work.
Evidently, it would be logical to ask what has become of those original images, held for safekeeping in museums and storerooms. It is an open-ended question that is always implicit in Brandl's work and that peeks through like filigree in the cracks of the processes of recording and conservation that underlie his work. The permanence of the images only attests to their entropic transformation by the endless repetition of another which is not the same as before, on a wide range of support media, and despite all appearances, at an ever increasing speed. And that is also how we should regard the importance engraving has had on Brandl's oeuvre: as a means of reproducing time-honored artistic images. It is a speed that is nothing like the speed of the old moving panoramas, even though they also contributed to swelling the archive of images that we all carry inside us.
Sines, August, 2011
Luísa Soares de Oliveira
 More specifically, in Das Passagen-Werk, collection of texts written between 1927 and 1940, and only published in the 1980s (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982).
2 In "Ulrich Loock in Conversation with Herbert Brandl" in Pintura: Herbert Brandl, Helmut Dorner, Adrian Schiess, cat. exhibition (Porto: Fundação de Serralves, 2004), cit, in Ulrich Loock, "Closeness / Distance" in Herbert Brandl, cat. exhibition (Hamburg: Deichtorhallen, 2009), pág. 37.
3 From an interview with the writer4 In After the End of Art. Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).