Sonja Gangl


After presenting her drawings in an extensive exhibition at the Albertina in 2013/14, Sonja Gangl is now showing her latest works on paper at Krobath | Vienna. In her black and white drawings Gangl exposes the various stages of the medium’s reality until she reaches the final level where she exhibits an absolute command of the pencil. In the history of art, drawing is considered as the preliminary stage of painting, which tries to refer to a reality beyond itself. In Gangl’s latest works, photography plays an important role by predefining the details of the image and thus the realities that are represented in the drawings.

Gangl’s new works allude to the dialectic between conveying the actual pictorial scenarios and connecting to instances in art history where the individual stages of history and the development of the medium depend on each other. Her point of departure is the photographs she has taken in various locations, such as at Vienna’s main produce market where she captured the packaging of fruit and vegetables. Departing from these photographs, she then re-evaluates the position of still life in art and the history of art through her drawings.

The drawings created for this work cycle exist in various formats which are, in terms of size, reminiscent of the works of the first masters of still life in Spanish art from the 17th century, Juan Sánchez Cotán and Juan de Zurbarán. While further back in art history, the fruit and vegetables featured in artworks were fresh, lush parts of interiors, more recent works of art focus on the processes of change and decay. Today, Spain is Europe’s number one produce plantation. Fruit and vegetables that are produced along the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca supply the whole of Europe. However, three quarters of the world’s harvest and half of Europe’s foodstuffs end up on the rubbish dump. While Cotán and his contemporaries viewed food and luxuries such as citrus fruits and vegetables as purely aesthetic items, today it is impossible to view the same produce without reflecting on its production conditions and transportation routes. While beholders of 17th century Spanish still lifes were considered scopophilic aficionados, today’s viewers are confronted with their role as consumers of goods and services. Sam Taylor-Wood’s video installations highlight this perspective: the artist reverts the aesthetics of classic still life and celebrates the rotting of fruits and vegetables in her film pieces.

Gangl’s works take this approach a step further and focus directly on the packaging and transportation of the goods. In her small-format drawings, for example, she stylizes a closed black garbage bag or a yogurt pot carrying case as stand-alone objects in the centre of the picture. She thus shifts the focus of attention. This new take on still life extrapolates the objects from their context and increases their visual significance. Her precision, which conveys every detail and is achieved through her exact pencil lines, results in an artistic interplay between drawing and photography, thus suspending the traditional distinction between the various media.

Gangl’s large-format drawings depict the density of compressed packaging material, which, in their black and white aesthetic, draw on minimalist form language. We can discern company names here and there, but they take a back seat in the cardboard assemblages and picture details with the focus firmly on the structural variety of these sculptural ready-mades and their grid-like geometry. Gangl’s artistic language thus draws on the effect of disassociation in order to create a visual desire that may distract from the depicted content, yet still throws a spotlight on current realities.

Walter Seidl
(English translation: Mandana Taban)