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Gert and Uwe Tobias

September 12, 2006 - January 14, 2007

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Romanian twin brothers Gert and Uwe Tobias create large-scale woodcuts and sculptural constructions. They use the dark mythologies and history of their native Transylvania as their subject, bringing age-old folktales and imagery into the realm of the present. The prints and sculptures make reference not only to skulls and monsters, but also to modern graphic design, ancient ceramic forms, camp Hollywood horror films, and abstract imagery. The artists’ multi-media installations explore the way in which legends are formed and how objects stimulate cultural memory.

Gert and Uwe Tobias

By Bob Nickas

 

Come and See before the Tourists Will Do—the Mystery of Transylvania. This is the title Gert and Uwe Tobias gave to their exhibition in Cologne in 2004, as well as to the publication that accompanied it. It is in many ways a primer on the Tobias brothers themselves, and from the cover it might pass for a children's book. On the very first page we are greeted by two owls, posed symmetrically, facing each other. Turning the pages, there are mostly images: colorful woodcuts; whimsical typewriter drawings; photographs of moody mountains and forests, an ominous lake, the tower of a dark castle; lists of vampire movies; decorative patterns from textiles and architecture; skulls and carnival masks; children and animals—a white horse, a goat, birds, sheep being herded through deep snow. The book has no text except for the briefest of captions; it is as if for the Tobias brothers the world they are coming from must retain all its strangeness as a purely visual realm. The title suggests as much. A mystery is no longer a mystery once it's been solved.

 

Gert and Uwe Tobias are brothers, twins born in a part of Romania that most people have heard about but have never seen, a place associated, thanks to Bram Stoker and countless vampire movies, with the legend of Dracula. In school they had learned about the great fifteenth-century figure Vlad Tepes, brutal defender of Romania, better known as Vlad III the Impaler. But it wasn't until the family relocated to Germany in 1985, when the Tobias brothers were twelve, that they first heard of Dracula. Growing up in Romania at the time of Nicolae Ceausescu's rule, in a closed communist society, they had encountered only the historical figure. His literary and Hollywood counterpart would come later, and their return to Romania when they were in their twenties would have a decisive effect on the direction of their work. To see where their family was from, to be in that landscape, to discover a whole folkloric tradition that encompassed celebrations and bizarre costumes, handcrafts and vernacular motifs, all this engaged their imaginations and was brought to bear on their work. Together, they developed a shared visual language and what can now be seen as an almost recurring cast of characters ranging from spectral to comic figures. Their world is dark, but not without a wry sense of humor. More

Bob Nickas is curatorial adviser at PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York.

Notes
1. Gert and Uwe Tobias, conversation with the author, Cologne, July 9, 2006.

 

Hammer Projects are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, Fox Entertainment Group's Arts Development Fee, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, members of the Hammer Circle, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund.

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