Wenzel works across disciplines, from visual arts practices to writing. The artist envisions each exhibition he makes as a work in its own right. Fernweh represents the realization of a project that has been developing for a number of years.
Appenzeller Landschaft forms the exhibition’s centerpiece. The gallery’s checked linoleum floor is tiled with several years’ worth of Artforum magazines laid face down. What started as an art-about-art Oedipal gesture unfolded over time into a more complex gesture mixing travel, the idea of “home”, and personal and contemporary art history. The title translates to “Appenzell countryside” or “landscape”, referring to the photographs of Swiss life, particularly in the Canton and region of Appenzell, which have graced the back cover of the art magazine since the 1980s. Gallerist Bruno Bischofberger has leased this space, honoring his hometown of Appenzell and juxtaposing with brief text about his exhibitions, to represent his gallery’s program. These images, at once spectacular, sentimental, and curiously ethnographic, provide a consistent and compelling counterpoint to the ever changing ebb and flow of trends catalogued within the magazine’s pages.
Viewers step onto the piece and into a landscape. Just like the Swiss topography, Appenzeller Landschaft has its peaks and valleys, created by the varying thicknesses of each issue of the magazine. From the thin copies the 1990s to the phonebook girth of the boom years, from the Spartan aftermath of the latest economic collapse to the recent recovery of high-end economies, the floor’s irregular surface is determined by the number of ads taken out in the periodical. Formally, an aesthetics of compression is at play—the physical experience walking around on magazines, the weight of your body acting on the pages, squeezing them together in a sculptural way.
Travelling through Appenzell, hiking in the pre-Alps, and spending a night in a gasthoff on the side of a mountain during a residency in 2009 left a lasting impression on the artist. Over time Switzerland, particularly Bern, the home of the residency with which Wenzel is affiliated, has become a home away from home for the artist.
The story of Fernweh reads somewhat like a folk tale. In 2011 Wenzel, his cat deceased, in a dead-end job, and the lease on his apartment expiring, chose to leave the country. The possessions he didn’t sell or throw out, he locked up in storage. The stock of Artforums and other magazines he’d collected over the years he bequeathed to Brandon Alvendia, whose Storefront space was up the street from Wenzel’s apartment. For nearly two years Wenzel has lived an itinerant existence, travel through Switzerland, living in Berlin, returning for a time to Chicago, living outside Salzburg for a residency in an old Salt Factory in Austria, traveling by train through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, living the New York life of too many people in too little a space, only to ultimately land, quite fortunately, on the same block as the Storefront, where his cache of art magazines waited, stacked like Donald Judd in the back room.
It is in this spirit of sentimentality, symmetry, and perfect coincidence we present Fernweh, the story of a wayfaring stranger, who struck out into the world only to find his place back where he had started.
Fernweh is a German term connoting an almost physical ache to be in another country.
Erik Wenzel lives and works. Recent solo exhibitions include: Schönen Abend at Galerie im Alcatraz in Hallein, Austria, and FRESH FAT at 65GRAND in Chicago, both 2012; If travel is searching & home what’s been found at the WerkStadt Kulturverein in Berlin, Germany in 2011; and Live A Little, Live Ennui at Harold Washington College President’s Gallery in 2010 in Chicago. Recent group exhibitions include: THE KEYS TO HER PLACE, organized by Bernadette Arzengruber, at the VBKÖ in Vienna, Austria in 2013; and Media Kitchen, organized by Ashok Sukumaran and Shaina Anand at the Alte Saline Hallein in Hallein, Austria in 2012.
Wenzel has been written about in publications including Artforum.com, Bad at Sports, Chicago magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times and Newcity. He is Co-editor and Contributor to Internal Necessity: a reader tracing the inner logics of the contemporary art field published by the Sommerakademie at the Zentrum Paul Klee and Sternberg Press and is Worldwide Staff Writer for ArtSlant.com.
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