Standout exhibitions: Bernhard Sachs - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the Standout exhibitions feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Bernhard Sachs, Tristan und Isolde, South Melbourne 1986, 2012. Digital print, Biblioteca Apostatica stamp on paper, 201 x 112cm. Courtesy: the artist and Blockprojects, Melbourne

In arguably the most intense and powerful exhibition of 2012, Melbourne-based artist Bernhard Sachs rewrote the rules, creating a dark wunderkammer of paint, pastel, paper, board, photography, montage and especially gesture in an installation that aspired to the weight of a pagan chapel.

In the exhibition
Resurrexit: The Eradicate at Block Projects in Melbourne, an intense, multi-layered hang, Sachs engulfed the viewer in references that ranged from the classical to the postmodern, from Wagner to the chamber-metal band The Swans, from the agony of the crucifixion, to an excess of sensuality and an exploration of pathology.

To say that
The Eradicate was a challenge would be an understatement. Best viewed alone, Sachs managed to create a surreal aura of religiosity, although not without its swipes of sacrilege. Viewed alone, the voices of the works took over, an unmelodic cacophony – imagined, not heard – an apt sensation for works linked by the title Meistersingers.

Sachs’s arcane references, to be sure, bordered on overwhelming and getting to see the exhibition solo was nigh on impossible. Sachs has garnered an almost cult following and this was a show that took time to digest, a need to wallow, consider and investigate. Indeed, as Ingrid Periz, writing in a 2006 edition of
Australian Art Collector noted, the abiding preoccupation of his work is “the particular historical weight of European culture, guarded and undone by the German masters of suspicion – Freud, Nietzsche, Marx – all this worked through a later, indelibly French, critique of representation. Lest this sound like a postgraduate seminar in literary theory, it’s important to note that Sachs’s work is anything but dry. Images, particularly cinematic ones, engage him.”

And, in return, they clearly engage their audience. The fact that institutions failed to acquire any number of these works is a blistering indictment of state gallery curators. In many ways Sachs’s work is a forcible critique of the shallowness of aesthetic discourse in Australia. In one image in this show he used an aged forensic photograph of a murder victim who had been shot in the head. The shape of the wound is distinctly similar to the contours of Australia and it doesn’t take a degree in philosophy to work out Sachs’s motives – just shoot me, he seems to plead. Not unlike the approach sometimes undertaken by Mike Parr, these are works of intense intelligence, yet fierce physicality. These may not be works for the faint-of-heart.

Ashley Crawford

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