Neverending Paradox. Philosophical Ensembles of the late 1980s
curated by Ute Vorkoeper and Martin Germann
S.M.A.K. Gent, Belgium
11 March – 04 June 2017
From the 1960s through to her early death in 1993, Anna Oppermann created over 60 ensembles of various sizes, which she described as principally infinite exercises in perception and cognition. They permitted any conceivable form of visual, sculptural and written expression. Each one began with a meditation in front of a still life made of plants and found objects, which were usually attributed with a sentence, a quotation or short text. The artist made sketches of these ‘initial objects’, described them, analysed them, collected associations and arranged her observations to new, expanded still lifes, which she subsequently recorded in photographs and on canvas. By alternating between proximity and distance, examining closely and stepping back, she gradually passed from the particular to the universal, as she described it.
In retrospect, this evolution can be traced through the development of Oppermann’s complete oeuvre. In the 1970s, she embarked from very personal questions and problems, which affected her everyday life, such as social stereotypes, the notion of privacy, her life as a woman, artist and mother, her relationships with other people. In the 1980s, the focus of her analyses shifted, and her works increasingly revolved around economic, political and philosophical questions in interrelation with art and society. Her experience in the art world finally led her to engage in the debate on so-called postmodernity in the late 1980s. She examined the correspondence between her ensemble method and the “deconstructive” ways postmodern philosophers and sociologists attempted to break down modern concepts and universal truth. She also observed similar interests in the ambiguity of action, in paradoxical situations and the contradictions of modernity
Anna Oppermann herself was early to sense these kinds of contradictions and paradoxes in her own behaviours as well as in the public and private behaviours of others, which she interwove with self-critical reflections in her ensembles. In accordance with her method, her late exploration of postmodern thinking is of course not “general” or philosophical. Instead it probes out the similitude with her method and approaches it critically from unexpected, very personal angles. In the process, she discovered an abundance of unknown paradox and ambivalent aspects, which manifest themselves in this compilation of these three late ensembles at S.M.A.K. for the first time. Anna Oppermann’s work is a striking visual exercise of dealing with complex, contracting realities. In view of the current worldwide attempts to simplify complex correlations in our globalized and conflicting present, her work seems more topical than ever. […] Ute Vorkoeper