Rita Vitorelli

»Volatile Color Rushes through Time«


21er Raum at 21er Haus, Vienna

March 13 — April 21, 2014


The exhibition seems blocked even before entering the space, as a canvas appears to be floating across the doorway. Indeed, the visitor has to pass fairly closely to a painting to go into the show, a painting that in actual fact is part of a series rather than a barrier. It is a five-part cycle with pictures not hanging on the wall in the usual way but protruding into the room, attached to the wall along their thin edge. The hanging intensifies the presence and materiality of these works and arranges them in succession as opposed to side-by-side. This defined sequence forms a narrative, a first indication that a fundamental subject in this exhibition is time.


For time is also a theme of the paintings. Rita Vitorelli’s starting point was a series entitled The Course of Empire, completed in 1836 by the American landscape painter Thomas Cole. The titles of the paintings can be read on the reverse on the canvases: The Savage State, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, The Consummation of Empire, Destruction, and Desolation. They show a distinctly American landscape but not a specific empire. In a clear narrative and slightly varying landscape views they trace the development of civilization from barbarism to its heyday and then violent devastation followed by demise, thus alluding to the biological nature of history and the transience of its epochs. The cycle takes place over the course of a single day, as can be seen from the position of the sun.


Vitorelli’s aim was to translate Cole’s subject matter into contemporary form, successively paring down the vivid originals in preliminary works before finally transferring her studies to canvas in a single session. There were no corrections or retouching, leaving the picture’s structure and the performative moment clearly visible in this temporal sequence of canvas, primer, drawing, and paint. It concerns the moment when the work is realized that, for all its lengthy preparation, runs no risk of losing any of its lightness and fluency. These are paintings that are certainly not easy to digest. They have no center and seem to have been composed around the edges, thus tending to forfeit some tension, but it is in the detail that their appeal lies – indeed the style of installation calls for its close scrutiny. 


The abundance of images projected onto the walls at the other end of the exhibition space has a very different effect. These images have been produced using digital tools – not the best high-end image processing programs but low-tech tools capable of little more than aligning pixels. They were made in three different ways: Firstly, observing the motif without looking at the screen, secondly watching the drawing hand with only a mental image of the motif and the screen turned away, and thirdly drawing with just a mental image of the motif while looking only at the screen. Vitorelli thus disconnected the classic process of drawing that combines simultaneously looking at the hand and emerging drawing while glancing at the motif. The artist has been producing such images for a long time and she then superimposes them in different ways. For this exhibition she compiled the drawings into a slideshow with amateurish transitions further underlining the caricature quality of these works. This translates traditional hanging into a sequence, bearing in mind all the issues of rhythm to which spatial installation aspires.


On display in the lower level courtyard in front of the 21er Haus entrance there is a poster series designed by Rita Vitorelli and Dan Solbach. This too works with the notion of the calculated coincidence. Solbach combined various drawings to create a poster and the twenty-seven posters were then arranged by posterers. 


This haphazard moment, which is not dissimilar to the circulation of images on the internet and how we interact with these, undermines the individual painterly gesture and replaces authorship with creative complicity, although a digital signature style can still be detected. Classic questions about painting, concerning issues such as composition or representation, are juxtaposed here. And yet when facing the question about where the inflationary and immaterial image will lead painting, we still look to painting to find our bearings. The Course of Empire is indeed to be read as a commentary on the status quo: painting in a ruinous state but within the context of an ever-recurring cycle.



Rita Vitorelli was born in 1972 and lives and works in Vienna and Berlin. Her most recent exhibitions include: Very abstract and really figurative, Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna (2012); The Happy Fainting of Painting, Zwinger Galerie, Berlin (2012); Die/Der Würfel/Le Dé (III), COCO, Vienna (2012).


Exhibition catalogue:
21er Raum 2012 – 2016
Edited by Agnes Husslein-Arco and Severin Dünser
Including texts by Severin Dünser, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Paul Feigelfeld, Agnes Husslein-Arco, Lili Reynaud-Dewar and Luisa Ziaja on exhibitions by Anna-Sophie Berger, Andy Boot, Vittorio Brodmann, Andy Coolquitt, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Iman Issa, Barbara Kapusta, Susanne Kriemann, Adriana Lara, Till Megerle, Adrien Missika, Noële Ody, Sarah Ortmeyer, Mathias Pöschl, Rosa Rendl, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Anja Ronacher, Constanze Schweiger, Zin Taylor, Philipp Timischl, Rita Vitorelli and Salvatore Viviano
Graphic design by Atelier Liska Wesle, Vienna/Berlin
Softcover, 21 × 29,7 cm, 272 pages, numerous illustrations in color
Belvedere, Vienna, 2016
ISBN 978-3-903114-18-0