Four Walls 1973-1977
Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Lundwig Wien, 2004
Between 1973 and 1977, Max Weiler created the picture cycle Four Walls. In the four large-format paintings, Weiler realises the three-dimensional model of a continually relevant spiritual relation to nature that is now more endangered than ever. The cycle’s innovative content is obvious: Neither the landscape genre, nor the idea of a hermetic series of paintings, nor the considerable dimensions of the four canvases (each measures 256 x 608 cm) correspond to the mainstream art of their time of creation. As one of the largest cycles of paintings in the 20th century, this picture series marks, however, the beginning of a new understanding of art, drawing into focus artistic analogies to natural creation as an alternative to the conventional reflexes of high-tech civilisation.
Weiler painted these pictures in his spacious studio in the Academy of Fine Arts at the Schillerplatz in Vienna. “I am simply a wall painter, I imagine everything as walls, in front of which people can stand, walk, act or relax. I have created, discovered and developed the means to achieve this.” With these words, Weiler describes in his “Daybooks and Nightbooks” of 1977, a basic intention of the cycle. The Four Walls present above all an aesthetic of the indeterminate, a monumental hymn to the emotional harmony with the forces of nature, the power of which seems to usurp completely the position of reason, a pathos of something ‘greater’, something that the human being will never attain.
Weiler has mentioned the ancient Chinese painters of the Sung Dynasty (960-1276), Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528) and Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) most frequently as historical references in his art. But he has also clearly differentiated these passions: “I prefer the Chinese painters between the 10th and 13th century to Caspar David Friedrich, because they possess the purer form for the same content. – Friedrich is a Romantic. Yet the Chinese are no Romantics, and neither am I. I would say that the Chinese have solved it in an exemplary way, or one could also say that inside and outside are in perfect harmony – that is what fascinates me and what I miss in Caspar David Friedrich. – Since landscape itself does not have this infinite breath; we project it onto the landscape. And why shouldn’t we project it onto her, after all we have it ourselves and seek to express ourselves through her? – I observe that this talent is rare and is dispersed across the whole world and across vast time periods. That is the source for my confidence, my certainty and my self-assurance.“ (1972) These models all have the complete absorption of the artist/viewer in a world of the spiritual in common, which is represented above all in natural structures.
The Four Walls may also be seen as laying the foundations of a nature renaissance in art. This artistic direction is most evident in the Per Kirkeby’s work (born in 1938), whose abstract monotypes of the late 1980s seem to be a direct continuation of Weiler’s position. Within the field of Austrian post-war art, the Four Walls represent a magnum opus, the concluding statement of the generation of Reconstruction, living through a period of change. Furthermore, within the scope of Austrian Modernism, they represent “the most monumental spatial expansion of the panel painting“ (Edelbert Köb).
The pictures were only exhibited twice: For the first time 1978 in the Weiler-exhibition “Wie die Natur” (Like Nature) shown at the Viennese Academy and in 1979 at the Künstlerhaus in Klagenfurt, and in 2004 for the last time in the Viennese Museumsquartier in an exhibition of the cycle curated by Edelbert Köb and organised by the Museum of Modern Art Foundation Ludwig. Max Weiler decided in 1985 to sell the two paintings Far Right: Living Nature and Nature with Caput Mortuum to the Law Faculty of the University of Vienna for its then, just completed new building. The paintings Above the Timberline and Skyscape were acquired by the Viennese Museum of Modern Art in 1992. Therefore, the Republic of Austria now owns all four works.