Since the late 1960s, the Swiss conceptual artist Jean-Frédéric Schnyder has created a vast oeuvre of paintings, photographs, sculptures, objects, and installations. In his art practice he remains radically open, one result of which is a fully discontinuous body of work. However, looking at Schnyder’s painterly work since the beginning of the 1970s, one discovers surprising continuities and ruptures at the same time.
In each new series of works, which at the same time represents an experimental set-up, the artist concentrates meticulously on the chosen theme. His interest in the painterly process itself motivated him, for example, to explore vedute painting and to translate it into multi-part series of plein air paintings: the series of Bernese vedutes consisting of 128 small-format paintings (early 1980s) or the series on Lake Thun realized in the mid-1990s, which comprises 38 small-format paintings.
Schnyder orients his choice of themes and motifs on existing and common practices, plays them consistently and skillfully through – still life, nude, landscape, the three most common motifs in art history, for example – while the works remain stylistically highly heterogeneous. Instead of perpetuating the archetype of romanticized Swiss Alpine images, it rather represents images of humanly cultivated, self-made landscape – for example, when highways and roads are foregrounded. The artist works in his studio with figurative-abstract motifs and styles. For a series of flower paintings – another classic motif – he applies a pixel system that recalls an early digital aesthetic as well as color field painting of the beginning of the 20th century.
For his sculptural installation Hüter der Schwelle (guardians of the threshold) the artist has made 22 lamps from banana boxes, which had previously been used as moving boxes. The cut-out holes create the impression of faces; at the same time, they evoke the association with the banal, practical function of carrying handles. The idea of recycling comes into play in another ongoing work, when Schnyder, the painter, pieces together into a huge patchwork canvas the color-soaked rags into which he wipes his brushes, as most recently in the exhibition Stop Painting in Venice in 2020.
Schnyder has exhibited internationally since the end of the 1960s, including the legendary exhibitions When Attitude Becomes Form, at Kunsthalle Bern (1969), documenta 5 (1972) and documenta 7 (1982); in 1993 he represented Switzerland at the Venice Biennale. His exhibition at the Secession is his first institutional solo show in Austria.
Programmed by the board of the Secession
Curated by Jeanette Pacher