Dieter Roth & Arnulf Rainer: Collaborations

  • Art
  • Drawing and illustration
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1/5
'Ge’ e M’ a', c1981–1983

© Dieter Roth Estate, Arnulf Rainer. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photogaphy Zürich

2/5
'Ma mit dem Ki', 1981–1983

© Dieter Roth Estate, Arnulf Rainer. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photogaphy Zürich

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'Kehrbild', undated

© Dieter Roth Estate, Arnulf Rainer. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photogaphy Zürich

4/5
Untitled, 1975

© Dieter Roth Estate, Arnulf Rainer. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photogaphy Zürich

5/5
'Handschlag', 1975

© Dieter Roth Estate, Arnulf Rainer. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photogaphy Zürich

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You normally think of artistic collaborations as being harmonious, mutually supportive things – but not in the case of Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer. Their collaborative works from the mid-1970s to mid-’80s are antagonistic and aggression-fuelled, playful in a fraught, edgy sort of way.

In virtually any of the scores of drawings and other works on paper on display, produced whenever the peripatetic Swiss-German Roth (who died in 1998) would drop by Rainer’s studio in Vienna, you can see the pair constantly vying to outdo each other – or not just outdo, but somehow obliterate the other’s presence. Photographs of one artist are physically defaced by the other, crude cartoon faces are drawn on top of colourful paint swirls, and endless scribbles and pencil scrawls manically encircle and negate each other in frantic, abstract flurries.

Sure, sometimes you get the sense that it’s all a bit of a macho pissing contest, a blokey rivalry between two fêted artists luxuriating in the knowledge that almost anything they churned out would end up being critically lauded. And yet, exhibited together in large groups, the works start to reveal subtle depths, showing how Roth and Rainer together developed a dialogue of swirling, spontaneous gestures.

The feeling is of returning to a state of childlike creativity, an elemental chaos from which occasional, discernible forms instinctively emerge. And a similar idea applies to the pair’s black-and-white videos, ostensibly featuring them performing simple actions – such as emptying out bins onto the floor and sweeping up the contents – yet where they instead spend more time discussing, arguing, or impulsively messing about. It’s the chaotic prevarications and meandering, mercurial digressions that constitute the real meaning of the work here.

Gabriel Coxhead

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