Karl-Heinz Klopf

Martin Hochleitner


Karl-Heinz Klopf studied at the College of Artistic and Industrial Design in Linz from 1977 to 1982. During this period, this institution, which was founded as an art school in 1947, was going through an extremely productive phase that influenced contemporary art in Linz in general to orientate itself increasingly to international standards. For example, in 1977, the year Klopf began studying, the art school put on the Forum Metall in cooperation with the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz. Along with the 1977 sculpture exhibition in Münster, which was also being put on for the first time, this project was one of the most ambitious undertakings ever to focus on public sculpture. Works by Herbert Bayer, Max Bill, Haus-Rucker-Co., Erwin Heerich, Donald Judd, Piotr Kowalski, Bernhard Luginbühl, Eduardo Paolozzi, David Rabinowitch, Erwin Reiter, Klaus Rinke and Günther Uecker reflected the high quality aspired to by the event, which was based on an idea by Helmuth Gsöllpointner. He was in charge of the “Metal Master Class” at the art school, which Karl-Heinz Klopf also attended.

The series Forum Stahl (Eng: Steel Forum) was an integral part of Gsöllpointer’s teaching concept. In these projects, which began in 1971, students produced works in the VOEST factory as part of their training, and presented them in their own exhibitions. When Laurids Ornter came to the art school, he and Gsöllpointer developed the idea in the course of the 1970s of extending the concept on an international basis and combining the VOEST’s increasing competence in artistic production with an invitation to altogether twelve artists or groups of artists working in contemporary metal sculpture. The idea received considerable support from Peter Baum, the director of the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, and was realised in 1977 as Forum Metall.

Its success provided the impetus for the Forum Design exhibition in Linz three years later in the summer of 1980, which was the climax of the development then taking place. To the present day, this has remained one of the biggest art projects ever to take place in Europe and caused an international sensation owing to its conception and unique exhibition set-up. What most interested Klopf about Forum Design was the interdisciplinary and transmedial approach: art, design, architecture, exhibition design, graphics, event and publication blended naturally with one another to produce a compact display.

For Klopf, these two projects were established parts of an academic approach that centred on the two different work conceptions of Helmuth Gsöllpointner and Laurids Ortner. Many of Gsöllpointner’s formal ideas were influenced and/or inspired by their technical feasibility. He came up with architectonic bodies that functioned in a wide variety of contexts. He was especially interested in the public space and architecture-related projects. In keeping with his own basic artistic approach, in his master class he pursued the goal of teaching his students fundamental practical skills for carrying out artistic ideas. However, Gsöllpointner did not aim at imposing any specific formal language. He was more interested in giving his students certain themes as “questions”. But he did pay attention to the technical realisation of the “answers” to these questions, and initiated constant discussions about the idea itself. Gsöllpointer continually invited leading figures from the international art scene to Linz to take part in projects and to teach. They included the German-Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz, and this enabled Klopf to closely study Goeritz’s works for public spaces. Gsöllpointer also had good contacts to potential clients and to industry, and he used these contacts to help in training and various cooperative projects.

Laurids Ortner influenced Karl-Heinz Klopf as a student mainly because of the concept of architecture that he taught. There were two points of contact here. Firstly, there was the Grundklasse für visuelle Gestaltung (Eng: Basic Class for Visual Design) that Ortner was in charge of at the art school; this class served as an introduction for all courses. Secondly, there was the Institut für visuelle Gestaltung (Eng:Institute for Visual Design), where Klopf worked alongside his studies. Ortner’s concepts of space, architecture and urbanism opened up fields of experiment in a sphere of utopia, artificiality and science fiction, and broke down conventional genre borders between architecture and art. As a part of the group Haus-Rucker-Co., Laurid Ortner was also one of the most successful artists in the 1970s with a connection to Upper Austria. The work Rahmenbau, which the group made for the  Documenta 6 exhibition in Kassel in 1977, was the symbol of a move towards internationalisation that was also reflected in a major way by the establishment of the Ars electronica in 1979.

Finally, Klopf was also influenced during his period of study by Gerhard Knogler, who had been creating complex works at the interface of minimal art and concept art since the 1970s. His precise and analytical approach particularly influence Klopf’s work with language.  However, he was not so much interested in concrete poetry or visual poetry as in forms of linguistically orientated concept art, which at the time was particularly associated with works by Josef Kosuth.

All in all, Klopf’s period of study was an important phase in his early artistic orientation. His training did not lead him to express himself in any particular genre according to a certain set of artistic principles, but instead encouraged a work-oriented approach situated between architecture and concept art.

Klopf ended his studies in 1982 with his graduation work Wasserkla4. A piano filled with water served the artist as the focus of a performance in which he produced random compositions. At its presentation in the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, the audience was able to see simultaneously what happened in the piano by means of two monitors. Klopf moved between visual and acoustic thought patterns that he pursued as a way of breaking down the borders of the classical disciplines.



In 1987, Karl-Heinz Klopf won first prize at the Römerquelle art competition. This competition had taken place every year since 1980, with the prize being awarded each time for a drawing by an Austrian artist. The Römerquelle art competition clearly reflected the situation of art in Austria in 1980, both in the nature of the works that won the award and the criteria for winning it. The phase of post-modernity in Austria was manifested in a form of post-Expressionism that, above all with regard to Neue Malerei, was characterised by a typifying realism and an expressive verism. The artist had also already participated successfully in the 3rd Triennale der Zeichnung in Nuremberg in 1983, but this prize at the Römerquelle art competition was one of the most important driving factors behind the reception of his drawings in the 1980s. However, it led to a contextualisation of his style that did not fully correspond to the way he saw himself and the direction indicated by his previous works. The classification of Klopf as a typical representative of Austrian drawing culminated in the exhibition Oberösterreichs Avantgarde 1900 – 1990 in the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz. Together with other artists, such as Franz Blaas and Ulrich Waibel, Klopf was described by the then director of the museum, Peter Baum, as an “artist with a (…) tangible affinity with nature.” His “artistic approach [was] based on a strong emotional engagement”. An assessment like this one clearly displays the opposition of sensuality and intellectuality that was an established premise in discussion of the arts in 1980. But this opposition was to have no valid application to Klopf’s work. His drawing did not have anything to do with turning away from the conceptual concept of the 1970s either. Rather, they were part of an artistic working approach that – without any fixation of isolated visual ideas – had always had recourse to drawing.
Although there were certainly formal correspondences with Franz Blaas and Karl-Heinz Ströhle and although the artist put on a joint exhibition with these two artists at the Academy of the Arts in Budapest in 1986, Klopf’s drawings contained different emphases. He was interested in the relationship between drawing, object and space. Drawing seemed to him a particularly simple and concise method to focus artistic ideas on the one hand, and allow them to take effect in space on the other. Rather than concrete drawing, in the 1980s Klopf was looking for possibilities of using drawings to inhabit places between image and reality. For example, he presented cartons which he had drawn upon as objects on wooden consoles mounted on the wall.
At the same time, Klopf was also working on the roofs of apartment buildings in Vienna. In his Dachzeichnungen of 1985, he used found pieces of mortar, as in a performance, to make temporary markings that anticipated many of his later transformative ideas on architecture and urban space.



Travel and periods spent abroad for projects and exhibitions or on grants have played an important role in Karl-Heinz Klopf’s work. Even while still a student, he made several trips to New York, where he studied the layout of Manhattan. The silhouette of the island became the subject of several works and acted as a template for an urban space that at the time represented the centre of Western art. In his treatment of this theme, he alternated between experimental, architectural, sculptural and model-like ideas that reflected his personal engagement with a place in constantly new ways. His early trips to New York and his studies at this time were in many regards representative of the way his works developed later. For example, most of his working sojourns, often of several months’ duration, between 1985 and 1988 were marked by an engagement with American culture. It was not until the 1990s that he underwent a more intensive encounter with East Asia, whose metropolises seemed to Klopf to be paradigmatic of present-day conditions and development models of urban habitats.
In his early works with and about (the shape of) Manhattan, an artistic practice is manifested that connected Klopf’s own experiences in a certain location with an analysis of locally specific structures. The works executed on the first long trips thematised a subjective gaze as a hinge between collective patterns of identities and individual structures of perception, which themselves alternated between associative structures of memory and documentary approaches. At the same time, most of the artist’s other stays abroad also provided the impetus for new groups of works. These included Klopf’s works with postcards, which were turned into wall objects (1987/88) or provided the motivational basis for the series Kaschierungen, as well as his later videos of city squares or his use of city maps and local interviews in Splace (1996) and Environments (1998). Videos like Stop Over (1994) or later Jet Lag (2001), finally, addressed the theme of travel itself.



In 1994, Karl-Heinz Klopf put on the exhibition Platz at the Galerie im Stifterhaus in Linz. The project consisted of four elements. In the interior, the artist presented the video Platz (1992), a Planobjekt and the word “PLATZ” written around a pillar. Outside, around 250 posters with a list of various city squares were put up for the duration of the exhibition.
The concept and minimal design of the exhibition were a clear reflection of the artist’s approach. The works were directly connected with each other and were a logical continuation on from previous works. For example, the written word “PLATZ” recalled the work Horch, realised back in the 1980s in various forms. Klopf had presented the word “Horch” (Eng: “Listen”) both in writing and mounted in large letters in various public places.
The Planobjekte (1991 – 1994), on the other hand, continued Klopf’s engagement with concrete locations. As previously in the Manhattan works, the Planobjekte, with their presentation of place outlines, had now become a focus of his work in the early 1990s. In this series of objects, Klopf painted, from memory, schematic depictions of places that held meaning for him.
The Planobjekte, situated at the interface of painting, object and representative procedures of architecture, represented experiences had by the artist in various locations. At the exhibition in the Galerie im Stifterhaus, for example, Klopf showed exactly that part of Linz’s main square with the bridgehead building in which he had started his studies.
In contrast with this subjective locational reference visualised by painterly means, the video Platz, as a film recording of a real place, provided an anonymous, so to speak “public” view of an urban situation. The artist chose static shots of high-rise buildings in various large cities. From this position, Klopf focused mainly on squares and crossroads, filming only at night. In the exhibition, viewers could thus follow the rhythm of movements and distant events in the public space of large cities.
On the whole, in the exhibition at the Galerie im Stifterhaus the artist developed a model that not only presented the theme “square” in various media, but also positioned it within various conceptual fields of reference. In a manner comparable with the approach of Josef Kosuth, Klopf also worked with the various modes of information and insight offered by language, concept and visual impressions.
The Linz project Platz continued on from the solo exhibition Planen in the Secession in Vienna in 1993. Klopf drew on several groups of works, and created a sequence of personal places of memory (“Planobjekte”), a “public” view of a city (Platz) and a game involving the redundancy of visual information on postcards (Kaschierungen), all spread over three floors of the Secession.



In 1995, Karl-Heinz Klopf received the opportunity to work for several months in Tokyo on a grant from the Republic of Austria. He had already visited the city a year before to carry out preliminary research, and had been able to hold an interview with the architect Toyo Ito. In its discussion of the basic structure and the layers of Tokyo, this interview became an important starting point for the video Splace (1996).
As part of the financing for a project, Klopf had edited share certificates under the title Ohne Adressen (1994) for the first Japan trip. Over the period of one year, purchasers were informed about the project by means of artistically designed letters, thus becoming uniquely integrated into a model of reception. 
For Klopf, Ohne Adressen meant turning to processes of communication, which subsequently became an ever more important part of many of his works. He was particularly interested in the combination of communication and space. The video Environments of 1998 was a good example of this. In this video, he focused, by means of interviews, on the spatial experiences of people who were already working a lot with the Internet at the time, such as programme developers, students and artists. In the conversations, Klopf was concerned with the various information values of spaces. The narratives that these people provided about their experiences with the Internet represented virtual space, while the pictures of urban spaces seen simultaneously represented their physical surroundings.
In Splace and Environments, Klopf worked on themes that were to be summarised in the travelling exhibition Cities on the Move (1997/2000), curated by Hou Hanrou and Hans-Ulrich Obrist and shown in seven cities.
Klopf turned the “other” perceptions of spaces conveyed in the interviews into a reflection on his own working space in the project Studio, which he conceived in 2000 together with Sigrid Kurz. The result was a computer animation that was based on the exact spatial coordinates of their shared studio. In front of a white background, the video shows the permanent construction and deconstruction of the floor plan and elevation of the studio. Finally, accompanied by the acoustic impression of a construction site, inserts appear showing e-mails that Karl-Heinz Klopf collected over the space of a year, selecting them according to the sentences they contained referring to the location in various cities. In Studio, Klopf was interested in two things: on the one hand, the reference to the concrete location of the sender, on the other, the mention of descriptions of places in communication processes. This produced a narrative on contemporary feelings about space and time.
Together with its special mode of presentation – the animation was shown for the first time in the Galerie im Taxispalais in Innsbruck (2003) in its own screening box – , the work Studio represented one of the most complex methods of connecting space and communication structures. In this video, the communication about spaces itself became the space of a communication.



In his works up to now, Karl-Heinz Klopf has created a large number of architecture-related art projects and works for the public space. The first such work was the “Zigarettenturm”, conceived together with Gerhard Knogler in 1982. Although this ten-metre-high object in front of an extension of the Linz tobacco factory did reflect a concept of sculpture influenced by traditional monuments, its location at a busy crossroads meant that it was related not only to an urban situation, but also to the definition of urban space. At the same time, the artists played on the sculpturally influenced heating system, built by the architect Peter Behrens, in the centre of the tobacco factory, as well as the exhibits at the Forum Metall situated directly nearby. Here, the Four Boxes by Donald Judd above all showed an affinity to the reductive formal and artistic intentions of the two artists.
In the following years, Klopf realised several works, both inside and outside, in various architectural situations. The functions of the respective buildings were also different. A characteristic shared by all the artist’s projects is the extension of the concept “site-related” brought about by his permanent endeavour to bring about transformation processes in the space at hand. In this respect, the “Zigarettenturm” of 1982 was already a significant pointer towards a development that was to try more and more intensely to create transitory situations between space, architecture and the artistic project. This conceptual aspiration serves as a background to explain the intersections between the various fields in which the artist works. Sometimes, ideas are very deliberately tried out in different spatial situations and dimensions. For example, in the project Play City (1999/2003), Klopf worked with countless small polystyrene balls. He observed the creation of structures and tested their optical effect (urban agglomerations, networks, neuronal and biological systems etc.) in the space of a model.
In a further step, these concepts led to the video Flying High (1999). The working and living spaces of the artist were used for a visualisation of an apparent flight over a fictive landscape, which Klopf was able to confront in real form in the project Drippling, carried out in 2004. In this project in the public space, executed together with Sigrid Kurz, he integrated 200 circular pieces of white stone directly into the surroundings of the newly erected football stadium in Wals-Siezenheim near Salzburg. What Kopf had tried out as an experiment in model form in Play City was now implemented in reality. At the same time, the concept of a flight in the video Flying High corresponded to the concrete ‘readability’ of this later public art project. Because the football stadium is directly on the approach path to Salzburg Airport, the real points seen when approaching Salzburg seem themselves like an artistic model of reality.



The R-Haus was created according to plans by Karl-Heinz Klopf in Hohenems in Vorarlberg between 2000 and 2004. Although the artist, who had completed a course in structural engineering before starting art school, had engaged with architectural tasks for years on a variety of levels and carried out a wide variety of projects engaging with architectural situations, the R-Haus for the first time represented a complete manifestation of planning and design ideas for concrete concepts and needs.
In the house for Roswitha Häfele, Klopf applied his previous experience from   locational research, function programmes, usage models, formal analysis and material input. He created a building that displays, precisely and at a concrete site, a form and material aesthetic characteristic of the artist. The overall concept was informed by the intensive endeavour to achieve a reduction and variability of spatial structures. Here, Klopf was particularly interested in interfaces between exterior and interior spaces or intimacy and publicness. He also focused on the variability of architectural elements and the definition of spatial structures according to individual decisions on their usage.
Whereas previous projects were always connected with a process of abstraction from installations in real space, R-Haus itself created space in the form of a complete architectural structure that in many regards represented the architectural-sculptural embodiment of the skilful and unconventional treatment of spaces, forms and materials.



By Way of Display is the name Karl-Heinz Klopf gave to a video made in 2003, in which he looked at the treatment of marketing phenomena associated with the so-called betel nut (arecha catechu) in the urban marginal and intermediate zones of Taiwan. He examined the special spatio-economic and socio-cultural development surrounding the sale of this nut on the streets of Taiwan. The cultural embedment of the drug-like betel nut and the references, detectable in many details of the video, to the current situation of the Taiwanese economy provided the background in this film for an analysis of mechanisms of presentation – which can in general be seen as one of the most characteristic features of works by the artist.
In the video By Way of Display, this is seen in the glass boxes and window displays in which the costumed, so-called “betel-nut beauties” wait for customers.
The concept of “display” in its various meanings finds expression in the artist’s works in a variety of ways. “Display” can be meant both iconographically in the sense of  an engagement with questions of presentation, or as a deliberate emphasis. Even during his time as a student, Klopf worked on studies in which, for instance, he held up letters and photographed them. The picture with the sign in the hand appeared like a demonstrative gesture (to display) and at the same time represented different visual levels.  
Klopf was to build upon this aspect, already apparent in his early works, especially in his series Streets (1996-2006). The original impetus came from his fascination with the pictogram-like depiction of streets in Japan. From the typical design of such orientation maps, he developed a system in which he circles the buildings in which he is living or exhibiting (for example, hotels, apartments, galleries etc.) and sketches the surrounding streets. Klopf then makes maps out of them in the specifically Japanese typology and finally mounts them on a window of the building he is using, which is situated within the streets shown. The view from the window together with the integrated map forms the motif of each photographic work.
Because focusing on the sign on the window puts the background out of focus, the photograph does not only join together several spaces, but also several levels of information – from the exact form of the sign to the out-of-focus depiction of the location.

Finally, “display” in the works of this artist also means a very intensive engagement with questions connected with the presentation of his own works or of the architectural set-up of the exhibition. Many of his works include the form of presentation as an integral part of the conception. The same goes for the design of exhibition projects or previous publications by the artist.



Karl-Heinz Klopf’s participation in the 9th Istanbul Biennial in 2005 led him to a particular engagement with a city that has been moulded by a large number of cultural identities and historical influences. Klopf’s contribution to the Biennial, Mind the Steps, consisted of a selection of steps that characterise the appearance of the city and thus also movement in the public spaces of this city of millions. Altogether six sets of steps were brightly lit up with spotlights. As an artistic intervention, this “stage lighting” created sculptural effects in the public space. The project was preceded by a phase of research on the concept of “publicness” in Istanbul, during which the steps began to seem increasingly significant to the artist with regard to everyday life in Istanbul.
Situated at the interface between privateness and publicness, the steps in front of the shouses turned out to be a direct statement of individual possibilities of design and interventions in the urban surface. Each individual set of steps represents an individually designed measure. As opposed to western European cities, for example, the design of pavements in Istanbul does not follow a uniform plan.
This patchwork, which nonetheless produces a totality of urban surface, was highlighted and its basic structure laid bare by Klopf’s work. Once more, the project Mind the Steps showed the results of a complex analysis of an urban space. Finally, Klopf organised his own programme with various concerts and performances at the sites he had selected during the days of the opening, so that Mind the Steps  conveyed a comprehensive understanding of the conception, function, location and possibilities for reception of a concrete artistic project.



The solo exhibition in the Landesgalerie starts with the Planobjekten, the depictions of locations from the artist’s personal history, and ranges to new projects and installations. In addition, the title From / To reflects the temporal, spatial, communicative and thematic intermediate space in the sense of differences and possible connections. What seemed important in planning this project was on the one hand to present the long-term nature of Klopf’s engagement with urban spaces and spheres and on the other to show the artist’s manifold personal experiences and points of contact within them. Shaped by urban living spaces and fascinated by both urban and virtual agglomerations, Karl-Heinz Klopf is interested not only in the complexity of systems, but above all in their ability to be transformed into an artistic process whose result convincingly displays competence at the level both of form and content.


Published in: Karl-Heinz Klopf: From/To. Bielefeld/Leipzig, Kerber Verlag, 2007.

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