Installation view at Tate St Ives, 2008 three

Installation view at Tate St Ives 2008
© Tate

Installation view at Tate St Ives, 2008 two

Installation view at Tate St Ives, 2008
© Tate

Installation view at Tate St Ives, 2008 one

Installation view at Tate St Ives 2008
© Tate

Heimo Zobernig Untitled 2001

Heimo Zobernig
Untitled 2001
Cardboard, wooden box
180 x 70 x 90 cm
Private collection, Germany
© Archive HZ

In this room, usually dedicated to displaying painting and sculpture by the St Ives modernist artists, Zobernig’s various sculptures are installed in a way that echoes this format.

Dating from the mid 1980s, they represent a key strand in the artist’s practice which dissects and assesses the language and representation of high modern, more specifically minimalist art.

Emerging out of New York in the 1960s, artists such as Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Frank Stella and Carl Andre proposed the reduction of a work of art to surface and form: its base elements devoid of symbolism, narrative content or the presence of the artist’s hand. The viewer’s experience was directed to a purely physical engagement with an object.

Floor or wall mounted, industrial or modern materials, cubic forms, repetition, equality of parts, reduced colour and neutral surfaces were the stylistic features, bound up with numerous debates and somewhat dogmatic texts promoting their high art principles. These often centred on a work’s interaction with the viewer in space as a kind of theatrical relationship.

Here, Zobernig’s take on minimalism irreverently undermines the iconic stance of certain works in this artistic canon by his use of more domestic materials such as toilet rolls, cardboard, plywood and foam. Pristine surfaces and hard edged forms are deliberately unfinished or disrupted by the addition of feathers or ambiguous painted lines. Within these subtle shifts, he also reminds us that the production and consumption of such works happens within the context of both the art museum and everyday life.

The minimal cube hovers between artwork and gallery plinth or lid; a packing case becomes a plinth from which the snaking constructed form on top may have just emerged; a shattered mirror takes on qualities of abstract painting by actually abstracting reality, even a pigment soaked floor piece – nodding to Carl Andre’s 144 Magnesium Square 1969, in Gallery 4 – derives from a household mattress.

Zobernig, perhaps frustratingly, makes no definitive artistic statements with these works; on the one hand, they remain ohne Titel (Untitled) looking rather like props or facsimiles of artworks – vehicles for the analysis of where art has come from and where it could potentially arrive. On the other, they are works of art, made by an artist for the purpose of exhibition and are only sustained by the structures and language of the art world.

Throughout these works there is an ongoing dialogue between painting and sculpture, surface and form. On writing about Zobernig’s painting techniques, curator Isabelle Graw has noted that often the artist’s sculpture is an extension of his painting and this reaches its fullest extent when a room installation is considered as a whole. Interestingly, the monochrome layouts often recall the pictorial spaces in his abstract paintings of the 1980s.