Chinesische Reise, eine Begegnung
pre-photograph, colour on paper, passepartout cut-out
ø 61 cm (total), photograph 51.5 cm
Inv. No. 0370
“As an artist,” Walter Obholzer once said, “you have to be completely contemporary, not a modern artist. Modernity is no more than a stylistic term.” A statement like this, from Austria's most important conceptual painter, could be the lead story for a collection like the evn’s, which has placed value on the contemporary from the start. For the extraordinarily exciting current chapter of contemporary works, Obholzer's Green Dumpling, Blue Dumpling, and Yellow Dumpling, all from 1995, as well as Green Otaku (
The latest purchase, Chinese Journey, an Encounter (Vorphotographie) (1986), belongs to an early complex of Obholzer's works: the Vorphotographien.
The Vorphotographien are a series of painted black and white images that at first glance appear to be photographs. Obholzer found the majority of the originals for these images in old film magazines, which he altered by means of more or less stringent interventions, then reassembled and copied onto paper with black acrylic paint. Obholzer was interested in creating photographs that were taken before the invention of photochemical techniques.
In 1987, the artist said about these extremely rare works in the legendary KUNSTFORUM issue entitled “Insel Austria” that “the pre-photographs are the staging of an idea, stencil and vector for a kind of memory, and the authentication for ideas about the past. I use only the air brush for this, so as not to disturb the homogeneity of the painting. The paper is unusually soft and the paint penetrates strongly as a result. Following today's applications of photography, I have searched and found early travel photography, early fashion photography, early documentary photography, early sports photography. Some of the images are by famous photographers, such as the travel images from China.”
Photography as an analog technique and system also communicates much about the sensibilities of the viewers and their times. The pre-photographs transport the invention of photography to the 18th and early 19th centuries through the meticulous craftsmanship of painting. They make us realize that we can no longer perceive and comprehend historical objects and situations through the eyes of past centuries. Because, as Susan Sontag says, photography is not an interpretation, but an imprint of reality – like a footprint or a death mask.
Brigitte Huck, 2021 (translation: Virginia Dellenbaugh)