XENIA HAUSNER | UNINTENDED BEAUTY

ST. AGNES | NAVE
29 APRIL – 12 JUNE 2022

KÖNIG GALERIE is pleased to present UNINTENDED BEAUTY, a solo show by one of Austria’s foremost contemporary painters, Xenia Hausner.

Xenia Hausner explores questions of beauty in her latest show comprising twelve new paintings by the Berlin- and Vienna-based artist. UNINTENDED BEAUTY displays how Hausner redefines notions of beauty with an eye towards its treatment in contemporary art. Underpinning the paintings in her current exhibition is also the question of how beauty and dread relate to one another. Hausner shows how the distinction between them can be fluid. “Every angel is terrifying”, according to the oft-cited line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s DUINO ELEGIES (1912-1922). The Austrian poet continues, “For beauty is nothing but the start of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us.” Hausner adapts Rilke’s sentiments for her own practice, suggesting that “in art, terror is nothing but the start of beauty”. From these apocalyptic murmurings a glimmer of hope suddenly emerges; prophecies of destruction are countered with the inventiveness and power of art.

Chance moments are also written into Hausner’s art alongside her mise en scènes. But Hausner, who uses photography and interior settings to produce her art, does not set out to distort her co-actors. Quite the opposite, in fact: the artist says that she attaches great importance to “the figures retaining their authentic body language”. Yet, at the same time, Hausner adds, the people she paints are also “like actors playing a part in my story”. The traditional power dynamic between painter and subject is transformed by Hausner into a more equitable, bi-directional exchange, where each side of the painterly equation reveal aspects about the other. “Painting has to do with affection”, says Hausner. Her images, painted in acrylics and oils on Dibond aluminium sheets, reflect her continuing interests in the structures of composition, light, and the power of colour. Even supposedly everyday subjects like buoys floating in a harbour, or even more politically-charged media, such as postage stamps, become a field for socially-minded painterly analysis. These subjects are dropped like anchors into the depths of a semi-conscious story that may contain elements from autobiographical scenes, or “questionable idylls”, as the artist calls them.

UNINTENDED BEAUTY counters the values of our zeitgeist by holding on to other, contradictory notions of beauty. Philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues that in a culture grounded in standards of affirmative slickness, beauty becomes useless for art, because art needs friction and negativity. According to cultural critic Laurie Penny, the toxic-normative core underlying this slickness means that women are bombarded by images in film, TV, ads, print media, and even fleeting encounters, which transmit subtle messages that they are not young, slim, light-skinned, or submissive enough to meet the standard. The actors in Hausner’s predominantly female cosmos appear as counter examples to this world, drawing their aesthetic power rather from everyday reality. They are depicted as confident and fully occupying the spaces around them. Does this amount to a defence of beauty through the medium of art? Hausner’s paintings cleave to the everyday while also opening an unchartered, utopian vision of beauty.

© Text Kito Nedo
© Images Roman März