Bruno Gironcoli at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003

Bruno Gironcoli in Vienna, Austria

A sculpture by Bruno Gironcoli installed in front of Strabag Haus Donau-City in Vienna. Photo 2007.

The Austrian Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2003

The pavilion of Austria, a building by Josef Hoffmann, is modern and proper, architecture meant to please. His lovely pavilion, meant to be a place for educated Kunstgenuss, is inhabited this year by works of the subversive goldsmith, sculptor of the subconscious, designer of the wicked – Bruno Gironcoli (born 1936-February 2010✝). This show could have been more, given the strength of Gironcoli´s work. It could have been a chapter from H.P. Lovecraft´s Necronomicon; it could have been a factory of the ghostly, the night in Freud´s mare, a House of Usher within Hoffmann´s picture-perfect house of Austria.

But it is not. It is Gironcoli´s art which still saves a show with modest ambition, put together by curators Kaspar König (director Museum Ludwig in Cologne) and Bettina M. Busse, the two commissioners selected by Austria´s state secretary of art, Franz Morak. In Austria, everything is “normalized” at last. Morak, a conservative politician, previously was a punk rock singer. Gironcoli still is the master of Freud´s Albtraum.

“I derive images from nature,” answers the hermit sculptor who doesn´t seem to like to explain much of his work, and it is difficult to overlook some of the recurring symbols such as cringing babies, animal heads, and metaphors of female organs. Cringing babies, electric vulvas, Austrian edelweiss patterns – all of this is also designed with painstaking craftsmanship, a quality dear to find these days.

Gironcoli´s sculptures are disturbing. They are machines of exploitation, monuments of obsessions, apparati of beauty and irony. He elaborates on the absurdity of life as if he is commissioned to design shrines for the late Godot, fusing imagery of Art Deco and Sci-fi into prayer wheels of a fourth industrial revolution where genetically engineered babies are Romulus and Remus and the wolverine is a sewing machine.

“My presence in the Giardini is an accident”, says the 69 year-old Gironcoli. After “hip” young artist groups like Gelitin and Granular Synthesis shown in the Austrian pavilion in the 2001 edition of Venice Biennale (commissioned by Elisabeth Schweeger) and in the general genius tempi, it indeed seems so. Gironcoli never was a member of a group or a movement, although selections from his drawings certainly show connections to Wiener Aktionismus of the 1950s and 1960s.

Surely, people with better talent for marketing have more visibility in the Venice Biennale, the global Las Vegas of art and vanities. Gironcoli´s art is of a kind rarely seen there, attention-grabbing without grabbing for attention. Hoffmann, the architect of the Austrian pavilion, was an adversary of Adolf Loos. Crime is a matter of definition, and so is ornament. Exploitation, cheap effects, vanity, it is all out there in the Giardini once you leave the temporary parallel universe of Gironcoli. Is it crime? What would Loos say, or Freud? You can still go back, to the Austrian pavilion and Gironcoli´s Untitled from 1975/76, a yellow painted Madonna in the golden wheat field on top of two toilets. It is a heile Welt, or holy world out there.

*This article was written on June 29th, 2003 for the summer issue of Contemporary Magazine in 2003. I would like to express my thanks to Professor Bruno Gironcoli for granting me his time for an interview at his atelier.