About the new works by Fritz Panzer
The re-encounter with the art of Fritz Panzer after decades of having lost track of him was quite a surprise and led to a growing fascination with Panzer’s latest works. Due to this temporal distance, it was clearly visible how much his apparently diverse works over the years are indeed linked by an inner continuity, a mental thread.
The first time I noticed Fritz Panzer’s works was during his period of large drawings on canvas which he painted over with flowing paint, and his cardboard sculptures, which he created almost simultaneously. In terms of art history, these works are often related to experiences Panzer had during his stay in the United States (1966). However, neither Action Painting nor Pop Art fully cover the intentions mirrored in his works.
A striking feature of his paintings is the strong outlines of objects which manifest themselves behind the veils of paint, confronting the viewer with two independent image planes. On the one hand, the flowing paint which obscures the three-dimensional perception of the objects while adding strong emotional moments. On the other hand, the accurately defined objects which try to establish their objecthood despite the veil of paint. For the first time, there is a reference to the idea that the description of an object’s features is not the same as the discussion of one’s perception of it: the arrangement of the lines and strokes has connotations of the object’s valid formal patterns, while the flowing paint defies a clear location and almost struggles against the rigid order of things. The cardboard sculptures are also mainly about processes of perception and confusions in the object world. Panzer’s sculptures, partly rather complex installations, stand firm and minutely defined in the room. But this time the objects lose their emotional element in a completely different manner – through their total lack of atmosphere. The unattractive, trivial and flat objects have been stripped of their functions – illusions or mock-ups of reality, as Klaus Hoffer called them.
In a different way, Panzer’s happening (or “Aktion” as it is called in German) in Forum Stadtpark Graz in 1970 shows how little interest he has in an artistic representation of the object world. In that work he built something like a log cabin with cardboard beams (I photographed the “Aktion”). The finished construction flew in the face of any kind of normal construction technique for houses or cabins. And Panzer himself took great pleasure in acting like a builder, from tying his working shoes, to carrying and carefully assembling the beams, to taking the obligatory break. Later on he told me that everything had been reminiscences of Beuys’ works.
Panzer started with his third major group of works in 2002 when he created his wire sculptures. These sculptures were a translation of his large-format delicate drawings of objects and indoor details into the third dimension. Panzer’s works have a profoundly different intention than the spatial wire structures of the constructivists or the playfully fragile art objects of Günter Haese. The starting point is the clearly defined object – an object which defies aesthetic sophistication and deconstruction because of its solid consistency and its usual form. Panzer builds his sculptures with an outer frame of wire which describes the outlines of his object. He also adds important details, and finally he wraps extra wire on certain parts, turning them into thicker “strokes”, similar to thick or thin strokes of the pencil. The objects are anchored in the room not only via their necessary (ceiling) mounts, which are rather fine, but also by the loose, tangled and untied ends of the wires.
As in his earlier works, here too items from his own living environment as well as everyday urban life appear – a kitchen, a suitcase, chairs, radiators and basins, a van or recently an escalator from an underground station. While the first objects are presented as complete figures in their original dimensions, the latter two are represented in fragments only, with the focus on their top views, because, as Panzer puts it, he “does not want to do too much so that it still looks like a drawing.” However, the tangle of wires in the base of the escalator is rather detailed. The object changes its structure constantly for the viewer who is moving about, and challenges the viewer ceaselessly to create his or her picture of the object anew. “My wire sculptures come across best when the whole room is involved and when they don’t hang on the walls as isolated objects. Admittedly, a radiator just hangs on the wall as well,” Fritz Panzer once wrote. In the context of discussions based purely on art theory, the artist does not ever want to miss the special aesthetic aspect of his works.
A lot has been written about Fritz Panzer’s works dealing with illusions of space and reality, about the characteristic return of object representation to the surface and about his artistic reaction to our vanishing awareness of objects in the hypertrophic world of consumer goods. I like to suggest another phenomenological consideration which refers to our initial reception of objects. In all of Panzer’s works it is evident that our understanding and idea of the object world is formed merely by an agreed-upon construct consisting of systems of lines, be it drawn with a pen, created by folding cardboards or designed out of wire. His works also show that these ideas or notions exist relatively independent from their momentary materialisation. With growing experience we gain the ability to recognise and to classify the world and its objects just by their visual outlines. However, this ability seduces us into an illusory sense of certainty. What advertising tries to change for manipulative purposes leads the artist to new challenges. He restores a freely chosen, emotional appreciation of the dead and neutral idea. He carries it beyond analytical discussions and revives it with an injection of individual, aesthetic and poetical life.
In the broadest sense, Panzer repeats the evolutionary perception processes of childhood or even early humans, where the human being outgrows early object communication in the form of a conditioned sign system and creates a new personal object world based on emotions. However, this does not imply a provocative transformation of materials as an artistic expression like Claes Oldenburg’s, but rather the translation of individual experiences and world views into artistic messages – similar to the free colour emotions of Franz Marc. Despite the sketchiness of the objects, in Fritz Panzer’s works biographically processed memories always have a strong presence: be it the running blood in the works of Viennese “Aktionismus” artists, the well ordered illusory world of the window display in his mother’s shop, or coils of wire he found in a factory. The results of our investigations lead us to assume that Panzer, as a sensitive artist, will always remain open to new metamorphoses.
And before I finish here, just one speculative question regarding art: If Fritz Panzer was to travel by aeroplane, would his wire suitcase have to be screened at the airport security check as well?