Tricks of the eye: the art of Tobias Rehberger

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Internationally known German artist Tobias Rehberger is currently exhibiting in Frankfurt while demonstrating eclectic influences ranging from optical illusion to everyday objects in a collection of 60 sculptures, installations and paintings spanning 20 years. Wallpaper* magazine calls him ‘a kind of environmental Op artist’ who works in ‘dazzle and disorientation’.

Tobias Rehber brings an exhibit of art ranging from optical illusions to everyday objects.

Rehberger has filled the space of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt museum, in his hometown, with a selection of his work entitled ‘Home and Away and Outside’, divided into three distinct areas.

Tricks of the eye is the theme of one area. He was inspired by ‘dazzle camouflage’, also known as ‘dazzle painting’ and ‘razzle dazzle’, geometric shapes arranged in complex patterns painted on ships, primarily in World War I. The intention was to throw off the aim of the enemy who wouldn’t be able to determine a ship’s size, speed and type or even the direction it was heading. The British artist Norman Wilkinson was hailed as its founder. While the efficacy of the technique was never actually proven, it’s resulted in some magnificent images. For this artwork, Rehberger’s covered walls, floors, mirrors and benches with wild black-and-white patterns. It reminds us of carpet tile’s ability to create a sense of movement on the floor through patterns, turning two-dimensional surfaces into three-dimensional ones. An earlier work on the same theme won Rehberger the title of best artist at the Venice Biennale in 2009.

Carpet tiles designed with contrasts can create 3D optical illusions when viewed at certain angles.

From an entirely different part of this original artist’s brain, another section of his exhibit places colourful sculptures with functional qualities in an all-white space. Some of these items are three-dimensional objects created by craftsmen in Cameroon from sketches that the artist did by memory of iconic twentieth-century furniture such as Alvar Aalto and Marcel Breuer. It’s a kind dissembling and reassembling, a commentary on authenticity and copying, memory and translation. This section also features portraits of Rehberger’s artist friends, not faces or torsos, but instead flowers in vases. Rehberger has asked his friends to bring flowers to him, without knowing the purpose and they would be used to represent them as art!

The intention of ‘dazzle camouflage’ was to throw off the aim of enemy warships during WWI.

A final art installation combines carnival with commerce and the world of advertising. It suspends a construction of neon tubes (the colours and arrangement which look somewhat like a deconstruction of the American flag) with old lights from a fairground and lit advertising signs. With a light shining down upon it from above, it casts a shadow that spells ‘regret’. It’s a combination of whimsy, politics and considerable technical skill.

Rehber was inspired by ‘dazzle camouflage’ to create his tricks of the eye area.

Curator Mathias Ulrich comments that Rehberger ‘defies categorisation’ both for the diversity of his ‘subject, media and context’ and for the way he ‘translates, alters and expands upon familiar situations and objects causing the viewer to question their understanding and interpretation of art’.  His themes include ‘optical delusion’, ‘identity games’, outdated techniques of production and collaboration with other artists.


‘Home and Away and Outside’ runs from 21 February to 11 May 2014.




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