Friday, June 19, 2009


Arnulf Rainer (b.1929)
Weinkruzifix / Wine Crucifix 1957/78
Oil on canvas
Support: 1680 x 1030 mm frame: 1685 x 1035 x 40 mm
Tate Modern, London

In the 1960s, a number of Austrian artists called The Vienna Actionists were influenced by international developments in painting in the 1950s and by artists such as Jackson Pollock.

They took painting as their starting point but they extended their gestural, material and often violent outpourings beyond the canvas. They wanted to break taboos.

Arnulf Rainer was not an “Actionist” but shared some of the Actionists’ interests and tendencies, particularly the desire to shock the viewer

Wine-Crucifix was originally painted as an altar-piece for the Student Chapel of the Catholic University in Graz, Austria at the instigation of Monsignor Otto Mauer.

In the late 1960s the work somehow disappeared from the Chapel (no one is quite sure how or why) and reappeared on the art market. The artist re-acquired and re-worked it.

The Wein part of its title in German, Weinkreuzifix, is a play on the German words for 'weep' and 'wine'

Originally the work hung loosely, without a frame, across a large window. Light shining through the cloth would reveal the shape of a cross beneath layers of paint.

In an interview in 1971, the artist said:

“There have been men and women in the church whose lives and thoughts touched me deeply. I myself still go through phases when I paint religious pictures”

Monsignor Otto Mause was a priest at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, and who also founded the Galerie nächst St Stephen. The Monsignor who commissioned the work was someone who impressed the artist. Of him, Rainer said:

“I had many discussions with him at that time and it was he who made it clear to me that connections between religion and artistic creativity, as I saw them, weren't as peculiar as they seemed. ...

I was amazed how spiritually involved Mauer was; as far as he was concerned, there was no difficulty in relating religion to modern art, which was prevalent at that time in Christian circles. By contrast Mauer seemed shaped by his contact with this form of art. He certainly wasn't a ‘progressive' priest. Theologically he was more traditionally orientated. But he was an incredibly intelligent and articulate man with an extraordinary wide horizon. He was capable of relating things to each other, which was certainly not an everyday achievement. ...

As far as we [artists] were concerned he emanated great spirituality as well as being a totally charismatic person. He used to preach sermons which were real works of art. And he gave himself up so utterly to his theme that he literally swayed in ecstasy in the pulpit. He fascinated all of us, just as great artists fascinate.”

(From ‘Elf Antworten auf Elf Fragen' in Otto Breicha (ed.), Arnulf Rainer Hirndrang, Salzburg 1980, pp.92-3)

In the same book above but in another interview, Rainer discussed what Christ means to him and goes on to describe his first picture of Christ:

“It started as a black figural-structure. I attempted to make a crucified figure. At the start it was a kind of cubic stretch-figure. But it wasn't successful. It was a stylistic platitude. So I went on painting and the figure of Christ became a cross. And finally, this cross became veiled by a dark cloud. But I am quite satisfied that something is still perceptible. It doesn't even have to be consciously perceptible. He [Christ] withdraws when we attempt to represent him. Perhaps he is there in an intimation, in an extinguished, fragmentary way. In certain signs. And yet he even withdraws there. As soon as one thoughtlessly repeats it “