Europäer

21/04/2007

Kurt Ryslavy

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The book Europäer contains this text translated in 36 European languages and  illustrations:

The Austrian artist Kurt Ryslavy has lived in Brussels since 1987. There, as an artistic occupation he has built up a respectable living – a study of the societal observation of ‘the independent artist.’ Aspects of this identity camouflage still pop up in his visual work, when he integrates lists or invoices into his art or, the other way round, formulates documents as paintings.


The story with the wine

I had already lived in Brussels for some time, when one of my regular identity crises again disturbed my visual art, the production of art objects (‘panels’! What absolute nonsense!). Very luckily I had found a psychiatrist who let me- a nearly impecunious artist- move onto a floor of his large house, where I could live, without heat, and create my art. This friendly man, with the striking name of Francois Debauche, happily did this for the ‘cultural import to Belgium from the city of Sigmund Freud.’ In spite of many offers, he refused to take any money for the use of the room. In a sound-proof room next to me, a voice teacher regularly gave singing lessons to people of all ages and persuasions. The only things they had in common were that they had absolutely no musical talent, were untrained singers and had completely no intention of learning to sing. They were patients of Dr. Debauche and ‘singing therapy’ was part of his treatment program. One floor above me lived a friendly, young couple from Ireland. The communal bathroom needed to be continuously cleansed of blood- that often squirted about uncontrollably because they took their drugs in a less than sober state. They slept during the day and worked outside the house at night and that was also a pleasant aspect of our living together. In the cellar lived a no-longer-young woman who was psychologically disturbed, making communication with her difficult. Every now and then she would rant and scream (especially French texts and songs), audible through the entire house. She had a preference for long steam baths, which would completely flood the communal bathroom. A young, female doctor who lived on the floor beneath me was friendly and nice.

In this environment, I began my intense preoccupation with the wine theme. I compared the qualities of wines from the lowest price class on the Belgian market. I quickly realised that at that time, there was not a single bottle of Austrian wine to be found. Why, was an enigma to me. My artistic endeavours consisted of the manufacturing of very complicated, short texts, which I could only find sufficient concentration for at the break of dawn for about two or three hours. These works often lead to high blood pressure, panic attacks and migraines- therefore it was always an achievement to finish these short texts and continue with my comparison studies of cheap Belgian wine. The second half of my day was usually dedicated to visual art. During this time of my early exhibitions, I had developed an aversion to the average gallery public. I shook off this aversion by means of an early keywork in Gallery Foncke. I had the idea of using the ignorance and contempt of the gallery visitors- who turned their backs on the exhibited art in favour of gossip and cocktails- against them. I hung up several ‘No Smoking’ signs and encouraged the visitors to sample the glasses - which I had filled with wine from hidden bottles. That was all, they had to try with their eyes, noses and mouths to recognise something and to clarify or compare from their own experiences. What was interesting was that during this time, my gallerist couldn’t find a single collector for the ‘No Smoking’ signs, the only available and tangible art pieces of the exhibition. (The hidden bottles were the first Austrian wine I had self-imported, with a loaned car and for which I paid the taxes myself.)

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This was not the only conceptual or deconstructive or contextual (or however you want to call it) work that I developed at this time. The art market was flourishing and many of my colleagues were doing excellent business. The ‘Gulf War I’ (invasion of Kuwait) broke out and the red-hot art market collapsed. Several gallery owners committed suicide. Even though I never get caught up in hype (personally I didn’t notice any economic deterioration of my destitution) this fatal mood and the successful exhibition with the blind taste-testing, inspired me to a bluntly extreme form of conceptualism: the building up of a so-called respectable living. I wanted to attempt to begin importing wine. Although I had no serious business knowledge- except lavish private consumption- I did possess sufficient aggression and scorn for the conventional attitudes.

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On top of this, a loan forced me to earn a higher and more regular income. When I tried to make my first serious attempts at offering Austrian wine, it dawned on me that Austrian wine could not be found in Belgium. Belgium was, several years earlier, hit with an Austrian wine scandal (the ‘Glykol-affair’). Because the local preference was for a mild, round and friendly priced (bulk-) wine, that was sold in tank by dealers (not wine growers) and then bottled in Belgium. This was the reason why the whole wine trade between Austria and Belgium collapsed, even though the scandal did not involve the bottled wine of the growers or producers themselves. In Belgium, Austrian wine was to a certain extent taboo, a social faux pas, a no-go product. I harvested only laughter, head-shaking and contempt. The first steps in the direction of my new artistic turn around, were stacks of boxes full of wine, which I could eventually drink myself. Nonetheless, it was officially imported with my own Belgian V.A.T.-number and registered with the Brussels Chamber of Commerce.

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With this non-artistic insignia, back then in Belgium, the horizon of my fame and circle of friends slowly broadened. A completely other part of society (the world of wine experts, connoisseurs, traders, restaurateurs, critics, etc.) judged my suggestions as not good, too sour, expensive, hideously packaged with chaotic and incoherent labels, etc. These people had the interesting habit of seeing the art (M. Broodthaers, M. Kippenberger, R. Prince, G. Richter. F. West, etc.) in tasting rooms simply as decor. That indeed said something about the success of my concept, as well as about the ‘flexibility’ of elegantly presented art. After three years and after five years, not much changed- only after seven or eight years did the nuance of business improve. Then with President Waldheim, NSDAP-officer (non-active duty), came another societal blow that ruined the reputation of Austrian wine. No Belgian joint (respectable or not) wanted to hear a recommendation of Austrian wine. When the Waldheim problem faded away, the wine started to sell better and then the well-know Nazi child, Dr. Haider, entered the goverment and my import-export was back at square one. Nowadays, after many years of great effort, I must, with help from lawyers, protect myself from large, established Belgian firms that are trying to steal my difficultly gained market, by contacting my ‘wine friends’ in order to import my wines to Belgium (instead of trying it with one of thousands of other wine traders who aren’t represented in Belgium).
Currently the sales room is a hybrid of a private residence of an art collector and a sales room of an exclusive wine trader - a disturbing mix for art lovers who seek in artists the eccentric margins of society, as well as for the connoisseurs who think that they are an annex of the Austrian Embassy. In reality, this is the true atelier of the artist.

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