with Essays by Franziska Sophie Wildförster & Gina Merz
At Villa Stuck, Billmair presents new works as part of the Small Change cycle. An iPhone image of a packaged sculptural work that was shown in the artist Eric Sidner’s solo exhibition der blonde Affe (2016) at the gallery, which Billmair occasionally worked for as an art handler for several years, is hyper-realistically translated into an oil painting. The original photo was taken by Billmair on the occasion of inventorying Sidner’s works in the gallery filing system. Corresponding to this new piece, that concludes the series of paintings that had previously been presented at his diploma exhibition, Billmair introduces a sculptural work that, too, manifests the outcome of multiple re-appropriations: A simple wood structure that was part of a sculptural ensemble in the same solo exhibition by Eric Sidner (and later similarly inventoried on a mobile phone photograph, that, however is not present in the installation) is re-built and exhibited at Villa Stuck. Commissioned by Billmair and fabricated by a carpenter on the grounds of installation views of Sidner’s solo show, the sculptural outcome expresses the carpenter’s interpretation of the work, based on his aesthetic and practical judgement rather than precise measurements or material specifications. In doing so, the work crunches the question of the properties and designation of original creation and the aforementioned critical aspects of “personal creation”, “intellectual content”, “perceptible form design”, and “individuality”, levering out both Sidner’s and the craftsman’s copyrights (as is the case with the manual and copying brushstrokes by the anonymous creator of Untitled (Amalia), Untitled (Davide), Untitled (Judith) and Untitled (Eric)). Billmair here presents a similar move as could be witnessed in his diploma exhibition: the “Small Change” is revealed in re-appropriations of his own and well as others’, as well as of artistic and supposed manual, labor, whereby the distinctions become fluid and arbitrary. At the same time, he transfers ideas and objects into other material and legal conditions as his very own process of production and creation of surplus value (which, arguably and paradoxically, derives both from anonymous commissioned labor and from the social value attributed to the names that those referenced and “copied" artist lend his work).
Villa Stuck, the former city palace and studio built by the reputable and financially successful artist Franz von Stuck in Munich’s Haidhausen, is a productive setting for Billmair’s new installation, not only because the Jugendstil painter and sculptor was a relentless copier of antique statues that are visible prominently in the building’s Vestibule. Furthermore, in the “Old Studio” (dt. “Altes Atelier”), in the former studio of von Stuck, where the works are exhibited, they are put in dialogue with their surrounding, that is pregnant with historic meaning. Located in the centre of the villa, this room was attributed utmost significance. Quasi-religiously, it was structured around an altar, emblematic for the supposed the proximity in which the artist as creator was put to the godly creation at the time. Likewise, it was a space for social gatherings, where an exclusively selected crowd from sciences, the arts, bourgeoisie and aristocracy was invited to receptions and festivities. To Billmair, the “Old Studio” thus resonates the cult of individualism, structural asymmetries and art’s closeness to power, that are still evident in the field of art today. In juxtaposition with the works Untitled (Eric) and Untitled(Franz) such parameters are sought to be deconstructed, while they can, however, hardly be overcome: mainly, the celebration of the artist unicum as well as status, class and social capital as not sole, but decisive preconditions for success. Far from undermining the concept of authorship in art, appropriation reconfirms and strengthening it, and Billmair does so, conversely and frankly, for his own benefit.
Franziska Sophie Wildförster