Born in 1929 in Baden, near Vienna, Austrian artist Arnulf Rainer was a nonconformist from the beginning: he dropped out of art school twice after only a few days, preferring instead to follow his intuition. Now internationally-acclaimed, with retrospectives at the Georges Pompidou (1984) and the Guggenheim New York (1989), his body of work is immense, his singular, provocative influence uncontested.
Using a variety of media and materials, and mostly recognized for his “overpaintings,” in which he blocks out artworks, Rainer’s impulses have been fueled by obsession, the subconscious, dreams, Surrealism, primal forces, and mythology. Using unconventional methods such as painting in altered states, using passport photo booths for self-portraits, painting blindfolded, or with his feet–sometimes with his entire body–Rainer manipulates form, composition, and perception to capture extreme emotions. He searches for the limits of an image, in order to push past them and release hidden energies.
In this exhibition, Ayn Foundation presents 19 works, ranging from 1985 to 2000, a core selection of his cross and angel paintings. Beginning in the 1950s, Rainer was drawn to the feelings and states that accompanied religious devotion and practice. He approached the subject from theological art historical and personal viewpoints, desiring to re-contextualize the symbols. “None of these works claims to have been intended specifically for a sacred context,’ he said in 1980 (The Menil Collection catalogue, 1992, p.5). “They arose from very personal roots. They were inspired by a subjective emotion regarding both the person of Christ and the event but also the idea of the cross.” Concerning the angels, he wrote in a 1992 essay (The Menil Collection catalogue, 1992, p.113), “Angel’s robes, to my mind, are the transcendental fulcrum, the much-sought missing link on the formal chain between spiritual and temporal aesthetics… For my own part, I have always been inspired by William Blake’s idiosyncratic visions of angels but also by those of Giotto and Fra Angelico, which encouraged me to become involved with the visual splendor of these beings. But this has been limited to shy, covert glances at their attire. I do not dare look at them in the face.”
In 2000, to commemorate his 70th birthday, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Kunstforum Bank Austria, Vienna and the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz held exhibitions in his honor; in 2004, he was granted an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Münster; two years later he received an honorary doctorate in theology from the Katholisch-Theologische Privatuniversität Linz. The Arnulf Rainer Museum opened In September 2009, in his hometown of Baden.
This exhibition is curated by Dr. Corinna Thierolf from the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany. It is the inaugural presentation by the Ayn Foundation at Mana, installed in a 5,000-square-foot gallery on the art center’s first floor. Ayn Foundation was founded in 1993 and is dedicated to presenting comprehensive, large-scale installations by major international artists to the public. Between 1993 and 1995, the foundation established the Arnulf Rainer Museum in Chelsea, New York.