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TOMAK 'UNIZORN – ENTARTETE KUNST' (Öl/Acryl auf Holz), 350 x 150 cm, 2014. Foto: Alek Kawka

(Öl/Acryl auf Holz), 350 x 150 cm, 2014.
Foto: Alek Kawka


But maybe that’s exactly what needs to return. Maybe you have to see this more cyclical.

Of course, everything is cyclical. Just like fashion is cyclical. But then we’re talking about fashion and not about art. In art, if we’ve seen it before, it isn’t art, unless it’s an excellent citation. For example the technique recently used by this Triegel guy to paint the Pope so exquisitely, isn’t new. The composition isn’t new. Anyone who paints the Pope this uncritically can kiss my ass anyway. But these are the people who are basically printing money. These are the people who can function in a market. Because some random degenerate idiots say „I understand that.“ There’s nothing to be misunderstood anyway. But if there’s nothing to be misunderstood about art – it isn’t art.

But that also has to do with the new wealth spreading all over the world. The opening of markets, which then affects regions where there has not been any education for almost seventy years. Yet that was when the most was happening in art: during the last century. They missed all of that because they were isolated from these ideas and thoughts and developments for political reasons. These developments do exist, we’re talking about Mike Kelley, Kippenberger, etc.. They didn’t come out of nowhere. Mike Kelley is very important to mention. He’s mentioned far too little. Punks like that no longer exist. Where are they? I mean, they all act as if they were punks, but they don’t do anything punk. That’s the problem.

The radical attitude is somewhat missing.

Yes. The freshness. The rawness. The brutality. The fucked-up-ness. And still, or maybe because of that, it’s good.

But the focus doesn’t always have to be on the radical. It doesn’t always need to be radical.

No, not radical in its idea, but in its the execution.

What do you think of street art in general, and what’s emerging from this whole conglomeration?

Street art in a gallery isn’t street art, in my opinion. Street art is rather a social statement. Spraying or installing something on a wall, or setting a car on fire, that’s street art. Street art is just today’s hype. What’s happening today happens because it’s hip and some young collectors are into it. They want something hip, colorful, cheeky.

Cheeky, like a naughty little sprite.

They want a naughty little sprite on the wall, saying ”cunt.” In which case they ought to get it spray-painted on their fucking car, and then I’ll smash the windshield with a sledgehammer five times or so, and then it will be street art. Taking street art off the street and putting it in a gallery is stupid. Then it isn’t street art anymore. Street art is supposed to communicate something to the public. A gallery isn’t the public.

It’s not a cultural institution anymore.

There are no more discussions in the gallery. There’s no brawling there. There’s no fighting for something. There’s no fighting over positions, everything is simply accepted. Everything is consumed and everything is made consumable.

I’m always a little ambivalent reagarding that issue. Also when it comes to the commercialization of the artist per se, for himself. I think it’s logical and I would do it as well. The artist virtually has to commercialize himself to a certain extent otherwise he won’t survive. He can’t live on air alone.

Commercializing means marketing. You have to market yourself today in terms of curators, in terms of directors. That’s a big task by itself. To meet these people, to communicate with them, to inform them that you exist. That’s not as simple as it once was. In the past, there were five galleries. Today there are countless galleries in Vienna alone. Of course, in the end there are only five that have the connections. The general public becomes an additional factor during an exhibition or performance. Then the press joins in and does an interview. Obviously that’s a forum that you can utilize as an artist.

Yes. And also need to utilize. It’s something you should do. I think this concept of the lonely philosophical artist in his garret is a little over the top.

That’s over anyway. You have to go out and put your head on the block. After a while you end up with a pretty hard head. And at some point you become such an incredible smart ass, and you have to become that way in order to keep all of this stuff at bay. And going out costs such an incredible amount of energy, it takes a lot of energy to constantly expose yourself to attack.

But you, for example, do it very well.

Well I also have a nom de guerre. They are shitting themselves when I show up. That’s something you have to learn as well. Being an artist means being sensitive. You have to be highly sensitive, after all. So you need to put on this virtual battle gear, to protect yourself a little. Recently a curator came up to me and said  – and this is the best line ever –  after she had seen a larger exhibition of mine: „It seems to me that there is rather little content.“ My pictures. Little content? How do you respond to that?

Take another look.

I said: Ah, that’s interesting. Afterwards I sent her things to let her know about the content. I mean, if someone doesn’t see what it’s about … Among the subjects was degenerate art. There was the subject of religion. There was the subject of humankind, God. I mean everything, the whole world. All this worldly wisdom was on display in the exhibition. And yet she didn’t see it. Maybe it’s a consequence of the individual’s cultural background and the resulting problems when one is not able to recognize things. But then you are in the wrong line of work as a curator of modern art. If you were born Catholic, your ability for discourse will surely be limited. This discourse that no longer takes place, but is still important. I can explain in one sentence why it no longer takes place: Because the Jewish culture is missing.

In what context?

Jewish culture is the culture of discourse. If you wipe out all of the Jews, you can’t expect to find a discourse happening fifty years later, because that discourse no longer exists. That culture no longer exists here. That culture no longer exists in journalism, in art, or in literature. They all write like rednecks today. That’s the way it is. Try being a writer who writes sophisticated literature in Austria. Try being a painter who paints sophisticated pictures in Austria. It’s the same everywhere. The stupider the shit is, the greater the recognition.


TOMAK 'THE HEARTS OG MARQUIS DE SADE' (Öl/Acryl auf Holz), 150 x 115 cm, 2014. Foto: Alek Kawka’

(Öl/Acryl auf Holz), 150 x 115 cm, 2014.
Foto: Alek Kawka’


Yes, it almost has a Sunday brunch atmosphere. It hurts to watch. Might as well have Thomas Bernhard as a coffee table book. It does get brutal at some point. Education was also something t I wanted to address, because you made the Waldorf-Astorias.

I explored the subject of the chalkboard with a selection of students. That was a very interesting experience. Because I didn’t show up like the professor of a painting class, instead I went there and told them: The theme is the chalkboard. I set the parameters. There is a paint for chalkboards, that’s what it’s called: chalkboard paint.

You mean the actual paint?

Right. The paint you use to make a chalkboard. You can draw and write on it with chalk, and of course you can also paint on it. The chalkboard as a picture. It’s not new. Joseph Beuys did it in his diagrammatic drawings, and Rudolf Steiner made chalkboard drawings. I was invited to go there and came up with this concept. And it showed how misguided the young people are about art. Because art education tells them what art is. It was interesting to see that only five out of 25 students really understood what it was about. They ended up staying on and made great pictures.

And how did you integrate them?

I didn’t integrate anybody at all, because art doesn’t integrate …

No. I am talking about the pictures. What happened to the pictures? How did that work?

Well, it worked as follows: we primed an incredible number of surfaces, and everyone chose their own. I chose twenty large surfaces and painted some right at the school. I was always ready to communicate with the students, who could come and see how I approached it. For the first month they couldn’t get the hang of it at all. None of them. Until they started making little drawings and writing short texts, making little things. And then suddenly you could see that something was happening. It started to become art.

I had to abduct them from their education, from their miseducation, their delusion, I would almost say. Because in the beginning they all painted a bunch of sunsets and impressionistic shit. I didn’t restrict their freedom, but I restricted the technique. They had to come up with the messages themselves. They could have simply put a pink splotch on it and I’m sure this would have been good, and it could have been declared art if it had turned out well. I kept this last option open for myself. They were all free to do as they pleased. Only the final word on art was up to me. I had a Muslim girl in the group who was very reluctant at first. Then I discovered her sketchbook, which was full of nothing but sadomasochistic drawings.

De Sade.

A Muslim girl with a headscarf, 17 years old. So I told her I thought it was very good. So then she mustered up the courage to try working on the surfaces, the large big ones, and made three great paintings. One of them I wasn’t allowed to exhibit. Because it looks like – at least I interpreted this way – as if she were penetrating herself with the crescent moon. It’s great. And she wants to continue painting. I apparently inspired and liberated her. This act of liberation – that’s what it’s about. Resistance makes the best art. Where there is resistance you get street art, poster art, text, you know? That’s where the energy is. Where the fire is. Where the fire needs to be. That’s where art happens.

So the goal was virtually to dismantle some of the domestication of the character as well as the way art is seen and dealt with.

As an adolescent you do have to be roughly aware of what previously existed, otherwise it wouldn’t interest you. It’s just the educational approach that is completely wrong. They start with the Impressionists and all that crap. That’s the last thing you need. What you need most, in fact, are those insane gothic pictures. Some of that stuff is really trippy. And they should go to modern art exhibitions and look at the work. That’s not boring either. If you communicate it the right way. What’s boring is fucking Monet with his fucking water lilies. It’s boring for a 16-year-old, who is connected to the entire world through his iPhone. And then he has to look at this garbage that may have been artistically important, but doesn’t correspond to the vocabulary of a teenager.

You can’t knock Monet, now. Those are some incredible things.

I don’t. I’m only knocking him now because that is where the concept of art seems to stop.

Yes, because it returns to the purely aesthetic.

No, because it stops there, actually. That’s what they teach: That’s it. But that was 120 years ago. The last century is the century of art. Period. And that starts with Duchamp. You have to teach art starting there. You have to know what came before. You have to teach art differently. That’s my approach. That’s why I’d say to a 16-year-old: „Why do you want to paint like Monet?“ There’s culture. There are advances in science. There’s your world. And that’s the culture you live in.

Painting is a really old medium, which once had the same purpose as a poster or a movie or a picture on Facebook or a photograph has today. Nothing else. They’re all pictures. The culture of image-making arose in order to communicate something, especially for people who couldn’t read. That’s why a picture is still a good thing, because many people can read now, but not in the same language. That’s why images are still powerful. That’s why we have a picture on every cover of every magazine instead of a sentence. Except maybe „We are the Pope.“ That’s certainly unbeatable. But otherwise an image is the strongest medium, and you can play with that. You can make people aware of that play. That doesn’t mean that the image always has to be a poster or always has to be powerful. It can also be very quiet.

Maybe just an abstract line.

You can also be very quiet. We’re being very loud here when we talk, very male, very combative. But quietude is also my thing, of course. That’s probably something you only notice at second glance.

// Interview by Daniel Lippitsch



This interview is an excerpt of the original version which will be published in “MALPRACTICE” by September 2015 in connection with a TOMAK solo-exhibition at Lisabird Contemporary in Vienna.

More information: www.tomak-eccemachina.com


Current Exhibitions

The Marked Self
until 4.10.2015

Neue Galerie Graz
8010 Graz

Website: www.museum-joanneum.at/neue-galerie-graz/bruseum


Upcoming Exhibitions

TOMAK x propaganda

Opening: 10.7.2015 // 19:00

Bergasse 5
1090 Vienna