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In her drawings, pictures, sculptures, video performances, and essays as well as in her textile works, the Austrian artist Verena Dengler links political and social phenomena, autobiographical reflexions, art-historical references, and quotations from popular and youth culture. In the collision of allegedly incompatible narratives—be it in the individual work, within a series, or a multimedia display—there unfolds the critical potential of a mutually questioning and mutually charging referential practice that goes beyond the self-reflective to question superordinate societal associations.
Starting out from her own person, which stands vicariously for the status of the female artist in today’s globally networked art scene with its neo-liberal marketing strategies, Dengler reflects in her most recent works on the “heterogeneous categories of identity and authenticity of a female artist as an art (or artificial) figure.”¹
The series of eight drawings After a Portrait of Verena Dengler by… (2014) shifts the focus to the economic conditions of the work situation by illuminating her role as model and muse.
As the title suggests, these are self-portraits based on works for which Dengler sat as model for artist friends—Will Benedict, John Kelsey, Lucy McKenzie, Josephine Pryde, and Tanja Widmann—between 2001 and 2013. In the transfer process, Dengler has formally standardized the originals, which took the form of paintings, photographs, drawings, or video stills: these are all blue-pencil drawings, all measuring 61 x 79 cm, presented in white frames. The series results in a biographical narrative, albeit incomplete, embedded in the friendship-based collective of an artist generation whose specific socialization has taken place in both real and, increasingly, virtual networks.
At first sight, Dengler’s “meta-self-portraits”² seem to fit in to the personality cult of the art business, in which the biographical and artistic person of the artist are increasingly fused. One drawing, additionally, emphasizes the explicitly personal: the copy of her portrait by John Kelsey has the subtitle: “Please Respect my Decision to End this Long Distance Relationship because It Is not Working for Me.”
On closer inspection, however, the multiple, fractured references subvert the codes of the scene and suggest a far more critical interpretation. Thus the artist, under the pseudonym Envy Nordpol, poses the question: “If she copies something for which she herself was the model, who or what is then the original?”³ By reproducing the works of her artist friends, Dengler re-appropriates her own image. In the process, she links “claims of artistic authorship with a reference to a blind spot in art production: the mostly unknown [and possibly unpaid?] models.”4 Her work can thus be seen not least as a commentary on the current cult of artistic collaborations and the commercialization of these relationships.
1 Margareta Sandhofer, press release “Dengled Up in Blue”, exhibition at the Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna, November 19, 2014 – January 16, 2015.
2 Pablo Larios, “Me, Myself & I: Über literarische Selbstportraits in der neueren Kunst”, in: frieze d/e, 20 (June–August 2015).
3 Verena Dengler, quote from “Dengled Up in Blue: Essay Dr. Envy Nordpol,” 2014, Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna.
4 Bettina Brunner, “Verena Dengler: Galerie Meyer Kainer, Wien”, in: frieze d/e, 18 (March/April 2015).
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