Rita Ackermann
Photo by Tanya & Zhenya Posternak

Rita Ackermann: “Nothingness is such a vast concept”

Short Profile

Name: Rita Ackermann
DOB: 19 April 1968
Place of birth: Budapest, Hungary
Occupation: Artist, painter

Rita Ackermann: Mama by Hauser & Wirth Publishers, with texts by Gianni Jetzer, Harmony Korine, Scott Griffin, and Rita Ackermann, is available to pre-order on hauserwirth.com

Ms. Ackermann, is art always on your mind?

I don’t notice when it is on my mind and when it is not. It blends. But I certainly don’t turn to art for distraction; everything else is distracting but art, therefore I tend to distract myself with life.

And what about when life itself becomes tumultuous?

I actually find discomfort stimulating to a certain extent. It keeps you alert. Even now during this pandemic, it’s really the mask wearing that is tasking the most of my patience… It’s hard to say in the middle of going through changes how exactly they effect our lives, but I feel somehow that a great thing will come from this reset because it was obvious that the bubble must burst before things get better. It will take time.

Do you expect that the art industry will also change for the better?

Well, the art industry is notorious for its growing speed. Demanding more of everything that feeds the industry more artists, more galleries, more fairs more events, more travel… It seems like that speed prevailed in the pandemic and the art industry had to stretch itself to the instantaneous Internet. Even my last show Mama ’20 had to be installed via FaceTime, I didn’t get to see my exhibition in person at all. But to be honest, I find the artist’s physical presence rather distracting at opening, so maybe those paintings were better off without me.

“I don’t like to describe what I paint because I cannot; if I could, I wouldn’t paint it.”

Do you feel like the artistic persona captures attention over the actual art at exhibitions?

I don’t have a persona. I believe it is the artist’s core that holds together an oeuvre… The core of the artist is like a vessel and I’m not possessive of what my paintings deliver. For me, painting is not about egomania. That’s why I get disturbingly critical of myself when I hear my voice explaining or tracking down the process of my work in front of people. When I paint, I’m not thinking — only occasionally do I have a grasp of that that state of “not thinking” and I try to write it down. Writing is more exact for something so elusive to describe. For me, it is difficult to speak about the paintings at all. I don’t like to describe what I paint because I cannot; if I could, I wouldn’t paint it.

Artist Liza Lou says it’s important visual art defends itself without anyone there talking about it.

Ultimately the artworks must speak for themselves as if they have a soul, otherwise they can vanish with the body. And I learn from my paintings. I am behind with my understanding them — they are ahead of my comprehension. And it’s always different with each bodies of works. I have experienced both the glorious endorsement and the humiliating rejection from the public and art criticism. For me it is almost impossible to step outside the most recent works. Often I think the artists who are overlooked are the privileged ones.

What do you mean?

They gain time and perspective to reflect! There could be the most genius masterpieces being revealed to the audience, and if only a few can connect to the works it means the entire effort is going to be overlooked and only discovered when it is revisited.

Have you ever experienced that kind of discovery when revisiting your older work?

I can relate to older works, but I don’t look back at them for sentiment. I get older and the painting changes, but everything I have done before is part of the newest work. For instance, the Mama ’19 series at Hauser & Wirth merits from a lot of my old works, therefore in the making it might be a more generous series. But it is almost impossible for me to tell exact measures. It is an organic melting pot.

Apparently you sometimes even paint over your older pieces and use them in your new series.

Actually, last night I was going through some of the pictures of different stages of paintings, and I found that I regret some of the over-paintings. But those paintings which don’t resurrect from their dead state won’t leave the studio anyway, no matter if there is a deadline. It is hard for me to give up on a painting, simply because I hate to trash layers and layers of labor… I would paint it over and over for years until it comes to life. What excites me is how a work of art can manifest itself through an artist’s hand. I want to paint what I don’t understand with the tools of skills I have. To make something as primitive as a cave drawing, or as emotionally devastating as a wall full of graffitis is to give body to the outburst of emotion of the collective conscience.

Does that mean that your art is directly connected to the world around you?

I would say that my work deals indirectly with the world. Right now I’m engaging with time itself during this quarantine… Not rushing into plans, just letting time stand still and staying with it, staying disciplined and watching how everything is changing. If you read the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, The Ice-Maiden or The Little Match Girl they evoke these devastatingly beautiful and cruel emotions of the human nature — and they have never ever been more relevant then in our current situation. To me, quarantine means the luxury of time. Now it is time to do nothing. But if you think of it, nothingness is such a vast concept that what it really means is that you can do anything and everything.