Stephen Prina at Secession, Vienna

The work of American artist, musician, and composer Stephen Prina is characterized by his appropriation of works by other artists, which he then places in new contexts. This is also the approach taken in his new project As He Remembered It, developed specially for the Hauptraum at the Secession, and in the four new works in his series Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet.

The point of departure for As He Remembered It is a memory from the 1980s, shared with artist Christopher Williams, of a fitted unit by architect R. M. Schindler that is taken out of its original context, painted, and recontextualized as an independent object. To bring this personal anecdote to the Hauptraum of the Secession, Prina chose two now-demolished houses built in the early 1940s by R. M. Schindler in Los Angeles for Hilaire Hiler and Mrs. George (Rose) Harris. Using surviving plans and photographs, he had copies made of the fitted units, resulting in 28 objects that were then used as supports for monochrome painting—Prina painted them pink using “PANTONE Honeysuckle 2011 COLOR OF THE YEAR”—and restaged in a specially developed grid pattern in the Secession’s Hauptraum.

If a piece of furniture designed for a specific use is taken out of that context and transferred to another location, how much of its original setting does it still bear within it? “We viewed this as an atrocity, as though this was an amputated limb of a body. I was describing it to a friend of mine not long ago and he said, well, that is like the phantom limb, isn’t it, that one can find in the writings of Freud and Merleau Ponty. But then I realized that this is not really like that. This is like the phantom body, because the limb is there and it is the corpus, the body that is gone.” (Stephen Prina)

By transferring, varying, and recontextualizing his source material in other media in this way, Prina creates a many-layered system of references in which personal, art-historical, and media narratives enrich one another. Going beyond quotation and reference, this allows him to also reflect on the potential of the artistic method of reference in general. “That becomes a very important part of the project: principles of translation. We couldn’t go back and measure or inspect the houses, so we had to start from the original plans of Schindler. In his early work the plans are quite detailed and as he continued working over the years the plans became less and less detailed. It wasn’t so much that he had an idea about a building and then executed it, so it wasn’t about the pre-executive, that is fully determined and then realized, but it is the idea that the architectural plans are a proposal in a certain direction and in the process of building he would make decisions and revisions. So, even in the way I just described it, does that function as a critique of Conceptual Art or some kinds of Conceptual Art? Perhaps.” (Stephen Prina)

Alongside these objects, Prina shows four new works from his series Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet (since 1988, ongoing; 223-226 of 556). They are based on the paintings of the Impressionist Édouard Manet, which Prina reproduces in part: his drawings adopt the formats of the originals but replace their content with monochrome surfaces of sepia watercolors. The resulting works, conceived as diptychs, combine an original drawing with a multiple that acts as an index of the overall project.

Artist: Stephen Prina

Venue: Secession, Vienna

Exhibition Title: As He Remembered It

Date: May 27 – August 21, 2011

Images courtesy of Secession, Vienna