Wolfgang Staehle


"As collage technique replaced oil paint-
ing, the cathode ray tube will replace
canvas.” Twenty-five years after the
first ventures into an artistic use of video, the
prophesy of Nam June Paik appears to have
been fulfilled. Its locus is a raw stretched canvas
hanging next to a videomonitor that transmits
the image of bologna being sliced. By Wolfgang
Staehle, this work is included in an exhibition
at the Daniel Newburg Gallery and forms part
of this artist's inquiry into the relationship of
television to painting. In three separate instal-
lations in Manhattan, Staehle created a video
panorama that, although hi-tech in appearance,
bypassed the criteria of technical or formal in-
novation that this medium is usually judged by.

The first exhibition, another allusion to
the "death of painting," took place at the New
Museum of Contemporary Art. It consisted of
the son et lumiére environment of a pitch-black
room in which a small video monitor broadcast
the non-flickering image of a black cross against
a white background. Emanating over a loud-
speaker was Brahm's great choral piece, Re-
quiem, after which the installation was named.
Staehle's second appearance was in the
context of an exhibition at the John Gibson
Gallery, curiously entitled “European Sculp-
ture.” (Given that most of the artists repre-
sented here have historically challenged such
regional or formal categorization, the title ap-
peared ill-suited and a mere pretext for redis-
covering the ready-made.) Staehle’s own con-
tribution was a television set broadcasting the
word “FINE” (the last frame of Fellini’s 8 1/2).
The monitor was set high on a black ladder.

A mini-anthology of his work was pro-
vided by the one-person show at the Daniel
Newburg Gallery. Among other works, it in-
cluded "Les autres chiens," (three television sets
featuring dogs chasing their own tails), "One
minute, I 'm thinking of what I should say" (an-
other line from Fellini, this time frozen in a
lightbox), and "Vers la Victoire," a television
hooked up to a Delco Free battery that contin-
uously played the title of a newsreel shot in
Vichy France.

Staehle works with political, aesthetic, or
commercial signifiers that are indexed to TV’s
propagandistic origins. That early filmmakers
such as Leni Riefenstahl could manipulate the
medium to straddle both fascism and the avant-
garde is a source of fascination for Staehle, who
has carried the moral implications so far as to
insist that even carriers of 'correct' political
messages, such as Hans Haacke or Gretchen
Bender, perform a type of public service that
does not necessarily coincide with innovation
or enlarge upon aesthetic or cultural under-
standings. Rather than aestheticize the political
experience, an artistic move he equivocates with
illustration, Staehle proposes the more difficult
politicization of the aesthetic sphere.

His first tactic is to ignore the object
character of video (explored in the work of
Vostell, Uecker and Beuys)--as well as its ready
link to theater and performance (Acconci,
Nauman, Paik). Instead, he takes the history of
painting as his subject matter, using video as a
visual tool that carries many but not all of paint-
ing’s signifiers. Hence the repeated references
to Russian Suprematism (Staehle is fully aware
of other artistic uses of space-and-time meta-
phors-and conscious of the irony inherent in
the supposedly "real-time" quality of film.).
Further, he plays on the Albertian formula of
painting-as-window by substituting the canvas
with a television screen. His own most potent
political message is the loss of aura that neces-
sarily accompanies video. An artistic form that
is mass-marketed and susceptible to endless re-
production, video is commercially ephemeral,
with a conviction foreign to the object-oriented
commodity language of Steinbach, Bickerton,
or Koons. Finally, his disregard for the techni-
cal wizardry available in the video market
presents the ultimate antidote to the fetishism
for object and image that has traditionally been
a side-effect of the connoisseurship of paint-
ings. (New Museum Feb. 3- April 9; Daniel
Newburg, April 5-30; European Sculpture, John
Gibson, March 21 -April 23 )

Cornelia Lauf