Time Is Thirsty at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

An immersive group show transports Emily McDermott to the 1990s

By Emily McDermott

Time Is Thirsty, 2019 (installation view). Photo: Jorit Aust. Courtesy Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

Distant sounds echo in an empty lobby, bass rumbling through my body. At the top of the stairs to the exhibition space, a glass bowl filled with earplugs stands next to a sign warning of loud music. Save for the white walls and silent security guard in place of a daunting bouncer, the dimmed lights, cavernous space and pounding techno suggest the entrance to a club rather than a museum.

At first, the earplugs seem unnecessary. Hanging opposite the entrance is On Kawara’s Sept. 19, 1992 (1992), one of his iconic Date Paintings, next to Xavier Aballí’s 29 Okt. 2019 (2019), part of a painting series in homage to Kawara, counting the days since the artist’s death. Here, however, the works serve to neither establish nor reference the artists’ own timelines but rather that of the exhibition: everything on view, by some 34 artists, design collectives, musicians and writers, has been made since 1992 – the year that the Kunsthalle Wien opened. After this brief introduction, I head back to pick up ear protection, the soundtrack by British musician Peter Rehberg and Italian duo Vipra starting to prevent me from hearing my own thoughts.

Moving beyond Kawara and Aballí’s paintings, a dusting of iridescent blue glitter covers a patch of floor (Ann Veronica Janssens’s Untitled [Blue Glitter], 2015–), behind which six mannequins wear Fong Leng polyester tracksuits that could have been found in a warehouse of 1990s deadstock as easily as on the streets of present-day Berlin (Willem de Rooij, series with various titles, 2015). Behind the figures, and arranged in a grid, hang ten black inflatable PVC ‘canvases’ by Franco Mazzucchelli (all Bieca Decorazione, 2017). Although each is delicately heat-stamped with an abstract pattern, they appear here like a singular black mass of soundproofing foam. Lining the floor’s edges is Jason Dodge’s untitled, undated installation of over 200 glass jars in various sizes – some acting like petri dishes, collecting bacteria; others scrubbed clean, sitting next to abandoned lollipops, batteries, rubber bands and superglue. Elsewhere, Georgia Sagri’s vinyl 3M stickers graphically replicate and enlarge the appearance of their titular subjects – fresh bruise, open wound, deep cut (all 2018) – while Anna- Sophie Berger’s time that breath cannot corrupt (2019) suggests traces of visitors: three garments on the floor are covered with dried, cracking mud, above them the brown imprints of having once been wet and thrown against the wall.

This is the detritus of a party, attendees and their actions frozen in time, with an occasional scoop of intel from the outside world. A curatorial intervention, for example, has resulted in the display of six oversize prints of articles published by The New York Times, topics ranging from race riots in Los Angeles, to Germans protesting violence against migrants, to climate change. The articles resonate as though they were written yesterday but are all from the 1990s. Such a confusion of time and space is, apparently, precisely what curator Luca Lo Pinto wished to instil, writing that, since the 90s, ‘the future and past seem set in some kind of loop’. In the exhibition booklet, Lo Pinto continues: ‘From [the 1990s] on, there is seemingly nothing culturally significant that hasn’t existed before, albeit in slightly different guises.’ If that’s true, the exhibition proposes neither answers nor speculations. As the sole visitor, I feel like I am alone at Berghain, the DJ finishing their set as the shades begin to open after nearly three decades of lost, forgotten time; my mind and body unsure where to go or what to do next. 

Time Is Thirsty at Kunsthalle Wien, Venna, through 26 January

From the January/February 2020 issue of ArtReview