Oh You Pretty Things

Jonny Niesche: Throb
Zeller van Almsick, Vienna
12.12.18 – 26.01.19

First Prize
Entry in English

A glimmer. A colourful figure slides into view: striking, well proportioned, and without wrinkles – totally put together, so all the more exciting. A flash of eye. A pupil. It is pure flattery, and seduction. But there is something strange about this vision, like mascara on a statue, or a piece of sculpture made to be slipped inside a person – holding your gaze, and the room. It is pure androgyny; a double performance – and you are fascinated. It is theatre, and the question of your own role is not immediately answered. Nor do you know what this thing wants with you. You remember a playbill mentioning Jonny Niesche being dragged through shopping mall cosmetics departments by his mother, in the 1980s, secretly falling in love with powder colours and mirrors; that it mentioned him ( or was it you? ) rapt at the sight of David Bowie, preening on stage, somewhere. As you keep looking, you begin to fall into character…

Exactly fifty years ago, as rock and roll approached its zenith, the critic Michael Fried wrote ( contra minimalism ) that ‘The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theatre’, and that ‘Art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre’.1 ( Considering the circumstances of Niesche’s artistic education, and his subsequent oeuvre, the disjunction between defeat and triumph is moot. ) His professor at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts, Heimo Zobernig, an exemplary investigator of formal concerns ( tropes of the monochrome, and passages between painting and sculpture, for instance ), was trained as a stage designer. Taking up Zobernig’s interest in what one critic has termed ‘setting the stage for art’, Niesche, too, has deployed the folding-screen format as way for colour-field painting to score architectural space – and, moreover, to occupy it as a quasi-protagonist. Speaking of his new works, Niesche talks of wanting to imbue the surface of his pieces with a ‘performative’ quality, in terms of changing optical effects; for them ‘to be responsive to the viewer, [for] the viewer to be responsive to them, and responsive to the environment in which they’re exhibited’.

The artist’s claim, and the testimony that his own oeuvre supplies, satisfies Fried’s charge that such an endeavour ‘depends on the beholder, is incomplete without him, it has been waiting for him’. The august critic continues: ‘And once he is in the room the work refuses, obstinately, to let him alone.’2 Fried’s complaint is that there is something undignified about the ‘literalist’ art-object’s overtures; something needy and entrapping – a would-be topping from the bottom. In rejoinder, one might claim that, through this theatrical scenario, the beholder’s subjectivity has been delivered to analysis and, therefore, made a visible issue. Yet, the two critical positions are not incompatible. In Niesche’s work the scene is set for the beholder to bottom from the top and, crucially, reflect upon this situation.

Indeed, the confluence of subject and object in Niesche’s aesthetic is such that the beholding subject is figured within the piece, in optical terms. This doubling scenario stems from the materials employed. ‘By the reflective surfaces’, the artist says, ‘the viewer becomes present in the work.’ However, the object also conditions the psychological constitution of the viewer, as a libidinal subject in a theatre of relations: ‘It is this desire-like situation when you are looking through a shop window at something you want, and at some point you are apprehended by the reflection of yourself within that situation’, says Niesche, reporting his inspiration. His painting-objects at Zeller van Almsick are not just completed by the viewer. In addition, and more generally, they encapsulate a ( contemporary/consumer ) regard.

Jonny Niesche: Throb. Installation view, Zeller van Almsick, Vienna. 12 December 2018 - 26 January 2019 “乔尼·乔施:《悸动》” ,展览现场,Zeller van Almsick画廊, 维也纳,2018年12月12日-2019年1月26日。

Jonny Niesche: Throb. Installation view, Zeller van Almsick, Vienna. 12 December 2018 – 26 January 2019 “乔尼·乔施:《悸动》” ,展览现场,Zeller van Almsick画廊, 维也纳,2018年12月12日-2019年1月26日。

We have thus arrived at the figure of Narcissus, whose reflected gaze delivers ‘the revelation of his identity and his duality’, according to Gaston Bachelard. ‘Above all’, says the philosopher, this amounts to the disclosure ‘of his reality and ideality’.3 It is Bachelard’s ‘idealising narcissism’ that appears to register in Niesche’s stylistics, in which real life takes a ‘surge upward’ towards a ‘holiday in unreality’. In terms of the tactile, both the mirrored surfaces of Niesche’s objects, and the flat manner in which they have been painted, proffer an idealising sublimation of the hand – which may be understood through Bachelard’s comments on the drama of a possible caress: The ( self- )image, contemplated in still water, whose beauty solicits touching, would be disturbed by even the slightest physical imposition. To illustrate this tension, he quotes Mallarmé – ‘The least sigh / Which breathed out / Would come back to me and ravish / What I adored / On the blue and blond water / And skies and forest / And the Rose of the wave.’ In light of this we recognise the pleasure of sublimation, in Niesche’s art, as being manifest in the delicate aspect of his creative task; the smooth applications of pigment, and the perfect polishing of mirrored surfaces, both of which are analogous to a ‘virtual, formalised, caress’. Moving beyond analogy, Niesche sets the stage for the beholder’s vivid regard of their own double – neither smudged, through the laying on of fingers, nor hazy, from too much heavy breathing.

In Throb’s free-standing painting-objects, reflective surfaces and paint operate according to an aesthetic of near stillness. While their mirrored elements ( literally ) crystallise this principle, the ultra-flatness of Niesche’s ( non- )painterly approach, with its slow colour gradients, appears to index the furthest thing from a disturbed liquid. Its antithesis, of course, is the vortex of paint ( that Kriegspiel of brushstrokes ), which expresses an active narcissism. This said, in line with our previous claims, the pleasurable idealised narcissism developed through Niesche’s work is no less generative. In fact, the stillness of it’s surfaces necessarily reflects the self-creating possibility of artifice – a theatricality unconsidered by Fried. Bachelard speaks its sovereignty: less a case of ‘I love myself as I am’ than ‘I am the way I love myself’. ‘I live exuberantly because I love myself fervently. I want to show up well; thus, I must increase my adornment.’ Witness, the vivid panoply of hues with which Niesche adorns his objects and canvases – inspired by cosmetic products. Moreover, the way his anti-expressive technique, and laborious achievement of colour gradients, demonstrate and solicit a deliberate mode of showing up ‘well’.

Stars are not born; they are made up. As much holds true for fame as astrophysics, and, wonderfully, etymology, in which a line runs from cosmetics to the celestial vault itself. The latter, kosmos, is ‘order, ornament’, giving kosmein ( ‘to arrange, adorn’ ), and, finally, kosmetikos ( ‘skilled in adornment or arrangement’ ). For what it’s worth, David Bowie held that the arrival of a ‘star-man’ required bi-directional traffic running along such a thread: ‘If we can sparkle he may land tonight’.4 Niesche all but states that his objects are, in some way, the glam star’s ‘pretty things’ – glitter on the surface of certain works, serving as the direct appropriation of Ziggy’s stardust.5 Within the flowering of such a Narcissus, in Niesche’s work, in which ‘life takes on beauty; clothes itself in images, blooms, transforms being, takes on light’, showing up well sidesteps neurosis, precisely because it has a cosmic outlook. While the gradient character of most of his painted surfaces rules out any horizon line that might serve as a vanishing point or pictorial coordination, the subjective vision that they establish is, nevertheless, not without orientation. Mathematically, a gradient is the rate of change of a function. It is a vector ( a direction ). In this light, even within the pure ‘ornament’ of the artist’s abstract colour fields, there is ‘order’, and that order is a trajectory – a Target ( 2014 ) – that fixes upon the stellar figure to enact orientation.

This said, following the optical logic of reflection, the orientation in question is mirrored this way and that; the arrow flies from the beholder towards the target and also from the target to the beholder. It is unclear who, or what, is doing the seducing; whether one wants to possess the phallus or be it. Ambiguity obtains in a looking glass, where a doubling desire makes Narcissus both want to be Bowie, and want to do Bowie. In this universe of desire, a human entreaty may be perfectly echoed by a non-human purr – the situation uncanny, in so far as it is unclear who, or what, spoke first. A deeper contemporary narcissism is thus whispered, for an instant, in Niesche’s painted and reflective objects: the commodity fetish as contemporary sexual orientation. Here, the starry-eyed lover lives the illumination of a mise-en-abyme; where ( as it was once thought ) light is a product of the eye. Glinting in a person or an animal’s regard, at night, in a club, or a shop, a little fire is seen to burn. By the analogical magic of the mirror it becomes as clear as day: the sun, the stars, are all eyes. The cosmos, thus adorned, can lift up the eyes of the beholder – they, too, can be heroes.

Jonny Niesche is just two letters away from sharing a surname with a philosopher who wrote that ‘when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you’.6 Perhaps, if the latter had worn eyeshadow, then the glare of the looking glass would not have assaulted his vision so. It was, in fact, Friedrich Nietzsche who also said that ‘As long as you still experience the stars as something “above you” you lack the eye of knowledge.’7 More than a century later, the stars ‘look very different today’, and Jonny Niesche can know, as per the title of a previous exhibition, that ‘nothing goes deeper than decoration’.

1. Michael Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood’ ( 1967 ), in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock ( New York: Dutton ), 1968, pp. 139–41.
2. Ibid., p. 140.
3. All quotations by and references to Bachelard in this and subsequent paragraphs are from Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams: An Essay of the Imagination of Matter ( 1942 ), trans. Edith R. Farrell ( Dallas: Pegasus Foundation ), 1990.
4. Lyrics to David Bowie, ‘Starman’, 1972.
5. Cosmos Cosmetics was the title of Niesche’s solo exhibition at Minerva, Sydney, 2016.
6. Friedrich Nietzsche, Part Four, epigram 146 ( ‘Whoever fights monsters…’ ) of ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ ( 1886 ), in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. and ed. Walter Kaufmann ( New York: Random House ), 2000, p. 279.
7. Part Four, epigram 71 ( ‘The sage as astronomer’ ) of ibid., p. 270.


Zeller van Almsick画廊,维也纳


译 / 梁霄

一丝微光。一个色彩斑斓的形象滑至眼前:引人瞩目,结构亭匀,没有皱褶—这些特点共同创造出更激动人心的一切。一次眼神的闪烁,一次瞳孔的收缩。目之所及的东西充满了艳羡与诱惑。但这幅景象里有些东西十分奇怪,就好像染在雕像上的睫毛膏,或一件能够溜进人体内的雕塑—它占据着你的目光和整座空间。一切都是雌雄同体的;一次双重表演,而你为之着迷。这里是剧场,关于你自身角色的疑惑并不会得到立即的回答,而你也不知道这一切到底与你有什么相干。你还记得展览的宣传单上讲述了这样一个故事:乔尼客尼施(Jonny Niesche)被母亲拉着穿过商场的化妆品柜台,在20世纪80年代,他悄悄地爱上了粉饼和镜子;宣传单还提到了他(或者是你?)全神贯注地盯着大卫客鲍伊,他正在洋洋自得地享受某处的舞台。当你继续寻找,你开始进入角色……

就在五十年前,当摇滚乐的流行接近顶峰时,评论家迈克尔客弗雷德(Michael Fried)在反思极简主义的《艺术与物性》中写道:“各种艺术的成功,甚至是生存,越来越取决于它们战胜剧场的能力。”而艺术在“接近剧场的条件时就会退化”。1考虑到尼施所接受的艺术教育背景以及他后来的全部创作,我想成功和失败之间的割裂是没有意义的。尼施在维也纳应用艺术大学的老师黑默客佐伯尼格(Heimo Zobernig)是形式问题(例如单色画的比喻和转义,绘画与雕塑间的联系)的代表性研究者,最初曾接受舞台制景设计师的专业训练。佐伯尼格“为艺术制景”(一位评论家所言)的兴趣被尼施继承了过来,他将折叠式的屏挡形式发展为色域绘画的新方法,并以此来划分建筑空间—更重要的是,将其视为一种空间中的“准主角”(quasi-protagonist)。谈及新作,尼施提到他想要在作品的表面注入一种“表演”的特质,比如不断变化的视觉效果;希望它们“对观众有所反应,(观众)对它们有所反应,作品对它们身处的环境也有所反应”。

Jonny Niesche: Throb. Installation view, Zeller van Almsick, Vienna, 12 December 2018 – 26 January 2019 “乔尼·乔施:《悸动》” , 展览现场,Zeller van Almsick画廊, 维也纳,2018年12月12日- 2019年1月26日。

Jonny Niesche: Throb. Installation view, Zeller van Almsick, Vienna, 12 December 2018 – 26 January 2019 “乔尼·乔施:《悸动》” , 展览现场,Zeller van Almsick画廊, 维也纳,2018年12月12日- 2019年1月26日。



我们由此来到了那喀索斯的形象面前。据加斯东客巴什拉(Gaston Bachelard)所言,那喀索斯投映在水中的凝视“揭示了他的身份和他的双重性”,这位哲学家继续说道,“最重要的是”,这等于揭示了“他的现实和他的理想”。2正是这后一种“理想化的自恋”出现在尼施的美学体系当中,在这种体系里,现实生活“飞越发展”起来,朝向一种“非现实的空缺”。在触觉方面,无论是作品镜子般的表面,还是艺术家绘制它们时带有的扁平风格,都提供了一种对于“手”的理想化的升华—我们或许能够通过巴什拉对一场“可能的爱抚”的戏剧评论加以理解:那些浮现在静水中的、沉思的(自我)形象,其美令人不禁想要触摸,然而即便是最轻微的抚动也会将它扰乱。为了说明这种张力,加斯东引用了马拉美的诗:“我呼出的/最轻微的气息/都会从我这里/夺走我曾珍爱的东西/在蓝色和金黄色的水上/那天穹和树林/那水波上的玫瑰。”译注2据此我们能够体会到升华的愉悦,在尼施的艺术中,这种愉悦表现在艺术家创造性工作的微妙方面:平滑运用于画布上的颜料,经过完美抛光的镜面,它们都类似于“虚拟的、形式化的爱抚”。除了制造出这种类比之外,尼施还为观看者搭建了能够让他们生动地凝视自身倒影的舞台—既不会因为手指的触碰而将这影子弄脏,也不会因为呼吸太过沉重而使它变得朦胧。


天上的星星不是生来如此,而是被塑造出来的。天体物理学的真相同样适用于人的名望,甚至在词源学上发生了美妙的巧合—一条从化妆品到天穹本身的演变线索。“kosmos”(宇宙)的本意是“秩序、装饰”,而给予“kosmein”便是“去安排和装饰”,最终,“kosmetikos”则意味着“去实践秩序和装饰的技能”。值得注意的是,大卫客鲍伊认为,“太空人”(starman)需要沿着这样一种双向的线路才能降世:“如果我们能够闪耀他今晚或许着陆。”4尼施几乎是在声明,他的作品在某种程度上是这位虚构巨星那“漂亮的东西”—某些作品表面的闪光似乎直接受到“Z字星尘”(Ziggy’s stardust)本人的启发。5在这样一种“那喀索斯”的盛放中,在尼施的作品里,“生活充盈着美,充盈着形象、舒展和光亮”,“更好地显现”正是因为具有秩序/宇宙(cosmic)的外观而准确避免了神经症。虽然艺术家大多数绘画表面的渐变特征排除了任何一类(能够充当消失点或协调图像的)水平线,但它们所建立的主观视觉并不是没有方向的。从数学上讲,一种渐变的梯度就是函数的变化率。它是一个矢量(方向)。在这种情况下,即便是艺术家在抽象色彩领域里的纯粹“装饰”也具备“秩序”,而秩序则意味着轨迹—一个《标靶》(Target,2014)—从而确定了星辰的方向。



1. 迈克尔弗雷德, 《艺术与物性》( 1967 ),in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock ( 纽约: Dutton ), 1968年,页。
2. 出处同上。
3. 此段及随后段落中对巴什拉的引用及参考皆来自:加斯东巴什拉,《水与梦金论物质的想象》, 1942年。R. Farrell编译(达拉斯: Pegasus 基金会 ), 1990年。
4. 取自大卫鲍伊《Starman》中的歌词,1972年。
5. 乔尼尼施曾于2016年在悉尼密涅瓦画廊举办个人展览“宇宙化妆品”。
6. 弗里德里希尼采著, 第四部分, 隽语146 ( “与魔鬼战斗的人” ) ,《尼采文集善恶的彼岸》, 沃尔特考夫曼编译 ( 纽约: 兰登书屋 ), 2000年, 279页。
7. 出处同上:第四部分,隽语71 ( “作为天文学家的圣人” ), 270页。