Arnulf Rainer

Wine Crucifix


Not on display

Arnulf Rainer born 1929
Original title
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1680 × 1030 mm
frame: 1685 × 1035 × 40 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

Wine-Crucifix was originally painted as an altar-piece for the Student Chapel of the Catholic University in Graz, Austria. It hung loosely, without a frame, across a large window. Light shining through the cloth would reveal the shape of a cross beneath layers of paint. The title of the work evokes the transformation of wine into the blood of Christ. After the work was removed from its religious setting in the mid-1960s, the artist bought it back and in 1978 decided to rework it. ‘I realised that the quality and truth of the picture only grew as it became darker and darker’, Rainer has explained.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Arnulf Rainer born 1929

T03671 Wine Crucifix 1957 and 1978

Oil on canvas 1680 x 1030 (66 1/4 x 40 3/4)
Inscribed ‘A R 57/78' b.r. and ‘Dunkel- | Rotes Kreuz A. Rainer 57 | 1972 [...] und | neu aufgezogen | dabei restauriert | A Rainer' on back of lining canvas
Purchased from Galerie ak, Frankfurt (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: Katholische Hochschulgemeinde 1957; ... ; private collection Graz, from whom bt by Galerie Welz Salzburg c.1970-1, from whom bt by Galerie Klewan Munich 1972, from whom bt by the artist 1972, sold to Galerie ak, Frankfurt 1980
Exh: Zeichen des Glaubens, Geist der Avantgarde: Religiöse Tendenzen in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, Grosse Orangerie, Schloss Charlottenburg, West Berlin, May-July 1980 (166, repr p.33 as ‘1957/58'); Arnulf Rainer Kruzifikationen 1951-1980, Galerie ak, Frankfurt, Sept.-Nov.1980 (no number, repr. p.2); Kunstverein, Heidelberg, March-April 1981, Städtisches Museum, Göttingen, April-June 1981, Sauermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, Jan.-March 1982 (no cat.); Arnulf Rainer Mort et Sacrifice, Museé nationale d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Feb.-March 1984 (no number, repr. p.28 as ‘1957/58')
Lit: Arnulf Rainer, ‘Hundert Bildnerische Szenen', Kunstforum International, vol. 26, March-April 1978, pp. 66-7, repr. p.93 in earlier state; ‘Arnulf Rainer Talking to Friedhelm Mennekes', Arnulf Rainer Fingermalereien, exh. cat., Galerie für Film, Foto, Neue Konkrete Kunst und Video, Bochum 1984, pp.92-101; Tate Gallery Report 1982-4, pp.58-9, repr. (col.). Also Repr: Kunstmagazin, vol.1 1981, p.119; Günter Rombold and Horst Schwebel, Christus in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, Freiburg 1983, p.152; Von der Aktionsmalerei zum Aktionismus: Wien 1960-1965. From Action Painting to Actionism: Vienna 1960-1965, exh. cat., Museum Fridericianum, Fassel 1988, p.28

T03671 is one of the earliest of Rainer's cross pictures. The Wein part of its title in German, Weinkreuzifix, is a play on the German words for 'weep' and 'wine', perhaps evoking the equation of blood and wine in Christian symbolism. It is possibly the only painting by Rainer to be acquired for a sacred purpose, although the small acrylic cross in the Student Chapel in Graz, another cross for the monastery at Melk and stained glass windows for the Pötzleinsdorfer Church in Vienna are other works in other media which have been made by him for liturgical or religious purposes. In a letter to the compiler dated 1 June 1988 from Gabriele Wimmer, who translated the artist's responses to questions posed by the compiler, Wimmer wrote that the picture was painted at the artist's family home in Gainfarn, near Vienna, in an unheated room with normal lighting. Later workings on the picture took place at Schloß Vornbach (a former Benedictine abbey), near Passau, where the artist has a studio.

From 1957 until the mid 1960s it was used as an altarpiece in the Student Chapel in 24 Leechgasse, Graz, Austria. According to Rainer, when the picture originally left his studio ‘it was a kind of curtain not a framed work' (letter to the compiler from Dr Heike Curtze, 10 September 1986). According to documentary photographs in the Gallery's files, the cloth was not on a stretcher, but fastened to a backing cloth which covered the entire window.

T03671 was removed from its setting during the mid 1960s, then disappeared until 1970-71 when it was acquired by the Galerie Welz. The artist bought it back in 1972, whereupon he '"corrected" the work' (letter to the compiler from Grabriele Wimmer, quoted above). In 1978, the artist relates, 'the painting was stretched and partly overworked because of artistic dissatisfaction' (ibid.). Rainer does not usually overwork earlier versions of works already completed. Comparing the present state to the earlier reproduction (in Kunstforum International, vol.26, March-April 1978, p.93) it appears that Rainer reworked the central, black vertical form to accentuate its bodily shape. Günter Rombold, in a letter to the compiler dated 26 July 1988, recalled discussing T03761 with Rainer during preparations for an exhibition in Berlin where the work was exhibited:

He said to me at the time that the painting had been made for the Catholic University Administration [Katholische Hochschulgemeinde] in Graz at the instigation of Monsignor Otto Mauer. To his astonishment he had discovered that the painting was in circulation in the art market once more. He bought it back for eight times the amount of the price he had been paid for it in 1957. This was not altogether a bad thing, because it gave him the opportunity to overwork the painting (until then a narrow brown cross over which streamed drips of red); a strong, black cruciform was the result of the overworking.

In a letter to the compiler dated 28 June 1988, Harald Baloch of the Catholic University Administration relates the early history of T03671:

At the end of the 1950s the then University Chaplain of Graz, Dr Ludwig Reichenpfader (died 1969), arranged for the chapel of the student quarters at Leechgasse 24 to be renovated. Through Monsignor Otto Mauer, the director of the Galerie nächt St Stephen in Vienna, who often gave lectures in Graz, Reichenpfader must have met Rainer. At any rate, Rainer was given the contract to design a crucifixion cloth and a movable cross. How much the contract was worth, I am unable to ascertain anymore ... The crucifixion cloth was hung across a large window which went on to the street. The light shining through the cloth gave it a special character. however, the spatial proportions of the room, at that time at the corner of the building, were completely inappropriate for a chapel. Only the two crucifixes created something approaching a religious focus within a room that was too high and too small.When in 1964 Dr Egon Kapellari became Student Chaplain, the whole house was renovated. By enclosing the foyer which became a gallery, a space on the first floor in the centre of the house became available to transform into a new chapel. This was done during 1965-6, with the architects Richard Gratl and Peter Thurner in charge. Their design was starkly functional and sober. They had no fundamental objections to Rainer's cloth. On the contrary, as students both Gratl and Thurner were sympathetic to the artists and aesthetic direction Mauer represented. The decision not to use the cloth was purely a practical one. The new space, with its continuous screen simply did not have sufficient height. In my opinion, the decision not to hang the cloth in the new chapel was less an aesthetic judgement against the cloth and more a realization of the irreconcilable nature of the cloth and its new setting. Another artist, Gerhard Moswitzer, was commissioned to design the new chapel. He made a steel cross (and later the tabernacle). In a quite different manner to Rainer's cloth, Moswitzer's steel cross represents an equally powerful 'struggle' with the cross. An accusation of aesthetic underestimation of Rainer's work cannot be levelled against Dr Kapellari, as Rainer's movable cross continued to be used for religious services in the chapel ... Dr Kapellari, now Bishop of Kärnten, did however give the cloth away, although this was not done irresponsibly. The cloth was given to Dr Hans Widrich, then director of the Afro-Asian Institute ... In exchange he gave the Catholic University Administration some graphic works by Markus Prachensky and Joseph Mikl, two artists supported at the time by Mauer. These graphic works were hung in various places throughout the building and were augmented over the years by other works given to us or bought by artists. As Widrich left Graz soon after, we no longer know what became of the cross.

In a letter to the compiler dated 4 July 1988 Dr Widrich categorically denies having acquired T03671. He writes:

it would never have occured to me to acquire the work as I was totally without the means to do this. It is, however, correct that I asked Dr Kapellari, the new chaplain, if it would be possible to acquire the Rainer cross [as opposed to T03671]. He turned down this request firmly and amicably, remarking that the work was a part of the spirituality of the house and must remain there ( I recall this from memory). We also talked about the cloth [T03671] and it became clear that evidently no-one knew of its whereabouts. Rainer later talked to me about the cloth and was most annoyed that it was back in the art market. I had not realised that until this moment. He also disclosed that he had bought back the work. Baloch mentions as an exchange for the Rainer graphic works by Prachensky and Mikl. Such a deal would have been an obvious deception. Because Dr Kapellari knew the value of contemporary Austrian art at the time, he would have opposed such moves most vigorously ... I repeat that I neither owned nor borrowed the Rainer cloth, either legally or illegally.

In a letter to the compiler dated 18 July 1988 Dr Kapellari confirms Widrich's statement on the ownership of T03671. He confirms Harald Baloch's point that the cloth was unable to be integrated into the new chapel, while the acrylic cross, also by Rainer, was and still is in use as an altar cross. He continues:

I cannot say how Rainer's 'Wine crucifix' came to be owned by someone else, for the following reasons. At the time [i.e. the mid 1960s] the Catholic University Administration bought four other houses needing renovation. This was carried out painstakingly ... During this time the depot in the third storey was periodically unsupervised. As explained above the cloth could not be integrated into the new chapel, while the cross was always present and much valued. We can reliably dismiss the suggestion that the Administration sold the cloth. Some colleagues believe that the Rainer cloth was exchanged for graphic works by Mikl and Prachensky, works still owned by the Administration. Dr Widrich denies this version of events. There only remains one other possibility, that the unsupervised depot was illegally opened and the work thus later found its way onto the market.

Although Rainer insists that his cruciform and cross paintings derive from very personal roots, he admits to being fascinated by the theme of suffering and sacrifice. Many of his black 'Overpaintings' (Ubermalungen) conceal a cross; and in his Body Language photographic works he has sometimes represented himself as crucified (e.g. in T03389). Questioned about his relationship to the church, Rainer said in an interview in 1971: ' There have been men and women in the church whose lives and thoughts touched me deeply. I myself still go through phases when I paint religious pictures - big black canvas for example' (‘Elf Antworten auf Elf Fragen' in Otto Breicha (ed.), Arnulf Rainer Hirndrang, Salzburg 1980, p.55). Rainer's meeting with Monsignor Otto Mause, a priest at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, who also founded the Galerie nächst St Stephen, was decisive in this respect:

I had many discussions with him at that time and it was he who made it clear to me that connections between religion and artistic creativity, as I saw them, weren't as peculiar as they seemed. He felt that the same way himself about them ... He visited me in my studio, looked at my pictures, chose and bought two of them. And then he made me an offer to have an exhibition in his gallery. I became interested. In those days I had a very particular and rather extreme profile as an artist. It was a daring thing to mount an exhibition of my work. I was amazed how spiritually involved Mauer was; as far as he was concerned, there was no difficulty in relating religion to modern art, which was prevalent at that time in Christian circles. By contrast Mauer seemed shaped by his contact with this form of art. He certainly wasn't a ‘progressive' priest. Theologically he was more traditionally orientated. But he was an incredibly intelligent and articulate man with an extraordinary wide horizon. He was capable of relating things to each other, which was certainly not an everyday achievement. He had important functions in the Church, though there were wide circles within the Catholic world, which absolutely rejected him and, in fact, actually saw in him a particular sort of demon. This was especially because of his contacts with artists. As far as we were concerned he emanated great spirituality as well as being a totally charismatic person. He used to preach sermons which were real works of art. And he gave himself up so utterly to his theme that he literally swayed in ecstasy in the pulpit. He fascinated all of us, just as great artists fascinate (ibid., pp.92-3).

The exhibition of Rainer's work took place at the Galerie nächst St Stephan in early 1960. Rainer's black overpainting and cross pictures were shown alongside religious sculpture and objects from the middle ages. The exhibition was accompanied by a publication entitled Kreuz und Nacht ('Cross and Night') with a text by the theologian Louis Chardon. The following year Otto Mauer himself wrote a catalogue introduction in which he said that ‘Rainer creates curtains which gradually form themselves out of hundreds of layers of brush strokes and line, black and coloured hangings' (Breicha [ed.] 1980, p.58). In the interview with Mennekes, Rainer reveals what Christ means to him and goes on to describe his first picture of Christ:

It started as a black figural-structure. I attempted to make a crucified figure. At the start it was a kind of cubic stretch-figure. But it wasn't successful. It was a stylistic platitude. So I went on painting and the figure of Christ became a cross. And finally, this cross became veiled by a dark cloud. But I am quite satisfied that something is still perceptible. It doesn't even have to be consciously perceptible. He [Christ] withdraws when we attempt to represent him. Perhaps he is there in an intimation, in an extinguished, fragmentary way. In certain signs. And yet he even withdraws there. As soon as one thoughtlessly repeats it (Breicha [ed.] 1980, p.98).

In the same interview, Rainer relates his overpaintings to his interest in mysticism, non-verbal prayer and the teachings of St John of the Cross:

I realised that there wasn't only that sort of religious art, as in the nineteenth century, where a figure of Christ or a Madonna was created in the greatest detail; there is also an overall religious ‘seeing', in which one only aims for the general structures of the imagination. Through it I have come more and more to paintings in dark colours - of course not totally black. There is always a small bit of light, mostly at the edge or in a corner. At the beginning I didn't want to do any ‘overpaintings'. I wanted to paint specific subjects. But it was always black, black and black again which came to me. I just couldn't do anything else. I had no idea beforehand that it would turn out like this. More than once, I tried to break away, but it was impossible. I realised that the quality and truth of the picture only grew as it became darker and darker (Breicha [ed.] 1980, p.94).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.551-4

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