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Thomas Huber: Pictet | one of four, two of four, three of four, four of four

Space can be encountered in many different ways. There is the familiar space of our own four walls. That is an interior space, that is to say, a built or constructed space. Much larger, for example, is the hall of a train station, public space, or the space of a lively street. Then there is also space in open nature. It is not built but grown, space in a forest under high branches. And there is space evoked by colour, space in which we experience sound. And sometimes we ourselves are space; inside.
When there is a lack of space, we feel constrained. And the bitterness of poverty also reveals itself in lack of space. The wealthy have a great deal of space, the poor have little room - or none at all. Space is precious, just like the raw materials water and oil.

But just as I said, a gesture can open a space. A stroke of colour is very red and open. One resounding tone, and we believe we are standing in a high vault. And finally, I draw a few lines with a pen on a closed surface, in this way opening up a space. Dürer spoke of the Riss. With his burin, he scratched the surface of the metal plate of his etchings, and with that gesture he opened up a space, an imaginary space. Yes, it was an action, a scratching, a Riss. There are echoes of that in the German terms: Grundriss, Aufriss. They are working terms of architects who build spaces. To this day, they still refer to the word coined by Dürer.

The technique of perspective makes it possible not just to produce imaginary depth on a surface, but also to represent it in a calculable or measurable way. In representations in perspective, things, also when represented in their depth, have their measurable place. Spaces that are represented in perspective are plausible spaces. The painted spaces on show here were produced with the means of perspective. Thus they are imaginary spaces and not built spaces. If built, these structures would obey the laws of gravity. They would have a balancing point which maintains the balance of the structure. But painted, they are focussed on the vanishing point. They would disappear there if the painting would not keep them afloat on the pictorial surface.

Paintings constructed according to rules of perspective stand in the tradition of Renaissance painting, that is to say, a fifteenth century conception of the pictorial, mainly in Italy. In painting, there were many counter models to the spatial conceptions of the Renaissance. In the twentieth century, the French painter Cezanne and the after him cubism fragmented the domination of the view in perspective. But also spatial and visual notions of non-European cultures were referred to in order to marginalise the perspective as a privileged case of seeing. Expressionism, art brut, and in a wide sense also the polemics of a subjectless, abstract art were all part of this. They all accused perspective of tricking the eye, of missing the true experience of the world. In the end, however, the way of seeing according to the rules of perspective has won over all alternatives. Our visual media, distributed to the masses, like photography, film, or images constructed by computers, all construct space according to perspective. Our way of seeing and representing the world relies on perspective as the obligatory representation and construction of reality.

I understood the commission to paint pictures for Pictet in the following way: the commissioning bank has a lot of everything. But space is available in limited quantity, even to the bank. As a painter, I can open up spaces for Pictet, I can paint truly unlimited spatial flights. I can give to the bank plenty of what it lacks: space.


'It is the artist's paintings that warm the bank. His paintings are hot. Puzzling in their depth, they outdo themselves in a warmth that generates trust. In the money, as the stuff from which he forms his pictures, the artist has found a material to open up the world, which keeps closing, in wide and deep paintings. Now the times are over when capital has to find new markets. Now it opens immeasurable spaces in paintings for its tasks. In the paintings, the capital gains hitherto unimaginable zones and gives itself away to them with its golden sense.

In his paintings, the artist opens up a space. With his pen, he tears open the closed surface of the canvas. Painting pictures, he links the depth of his visual space with reality, from which so far we had only been able to guess these visual spaces. The artist opens the barrier between our being and our appearance. He connects our miserable conditions with their promised possibilities. He redeems two media that had been impenetrably opposed to one another, due to their contradiction. He holds his hand over the threshold, the painting, that separates them, and suddenly the threshold is surmountable.'

'The new markets for capital are open in the paintings', the artist says. 'You must invest in the spaces of the paintings, that is the site of our future prosperity.'

Thomas Huber, quotations from Die Bank eine Wertvorstellung, Darmstadt 1992


From the year 500 AD onwards, the Byzantine notion of space was dominant in art. This lasted 1000 years. To this day, Romanesque sacred buildings and the paintings within them attest to this notion of space. The Romanesque basilica as space is identical with the visual space of the paintings on its wall. Images that are opposite each other in the space are thus in the same spatial continuum. That means that the pervasive gaze of God Almighty, painted into the round of the apse, is present in the architectural space as well as in each visual space of the other paintings in the church. The Romanesque Byzantine visual notion did not distinguish between architectural space and visual space. At that time, the idea of the panel painting set apart does not yet exist. The entity of a limited area, i.e. the panel, is an invention of Gothic art. There, the continuum, especially in early Gothic art, is the gold background as a space that connects everything. The reflection of God's omnipresence in the gold ground is the binding space in which the representations appear.

The paintings here in the reception rooms at Pictet try to reactivate this Romanesque Byzantine visual notion. The pictures that face each other across the lobby share the same imaginary visual space, suggesting a shared spatial continuum. This becomes clear in the overlapping of the tables, just as the paintings facing one another present it. The representations of the mountain landscapes assert a consistent spatial continuum. The representations of the landscapes complement one another in the sections facing one another.

The question is whether we still can see pictures in that way. Or does a picture end for us at their edges? Does it end there for good? And the border in front of the picture, on its surface? Does this area also just border on our materially conditioned world, does the picture reach its end here? Is it a picture that is an inescapable cage onto itself, in all directions? Here, completely away from everyday gazes, in the security zone of a private bank, I have these pictures face each other. In the dignified elegance of these surroundings, almost unnoticed, these pictures communicate with each other. They open up and have the light twinkle from one to the other. The spirit wanders from one painting to the other. Does Byzantine haunt the Pictet bank here in Geneva? A different time remembers and tests its possibilities.


Red frames. In all the paintings, rectangles are painted onto the walls. They frame the windows as well as the doors, and in between windows and doors, they are attached to the walls. They are signs: here is a picture. Again and again, people have sought out pictures of pictures. What is a picture? A picture is a view out of a window, it was said, and in early Renaissance paintings you looked through a window into a lovely landscape. Do you remember the landscape behind the Mona Lisa? And sometimes the paintings are not just windows, they are doors, gateways. And we can open these gates and enter the promise of these pictures. Then, pictures are more than just a view. You go into the picture.

In the Renaissance, the views out of the room, through windows, are still positioned in the background. The human portrait is in the foreground. Later, a long time after that, the view out of the window established itself as an independent view onto a valid part of the world. Artists took the landscape into their sights. It remained a view out of a window. Like a cut-out gaze through a rectangle. As a reminiscence of this view, Swiss landscapes are painted onto the walls of the pictorial spaces, as rectangular or window paintings. The Romantic era found itself in this genre of painting. It saw itself in the Swiss mountains: in these paintings, it was very close to the sublime.


The red frames, seen in a foreshortening, also increase the depth effect. They generate a pull into the depth of the imaginary space. The many rectangles rhythmatise our visual approach to the painting. The red frames make the paintings more spatial, deeper.


The four paintings for Pictet sum up notions of the visual from the history of the picture. Thus, they quote the development of western views of the visual and the pictorial. This begins with Byzantine art, the first western pictorial inventions. There, no difference was made yet between real space and pictorial space, both merged. This becomes clear in the hanging in the lobby. Then, the visual notions of the Renaissance are evident. They reveal themselves in the construction of the pictures, based on spatial effects. A picture is supposed to be an individual view on the world, represented by the construction of the vanishing point. The picture is, analogous to our perception of reality, and isolated and limited detail of the reality that was constructed beforehand. The picture has depth. It constructs a manageable and controllable spatiality and recognises in these spatial views the sovereignty of the human gaze on the world. Also in the Renaissance, nature was recognised as beauty. Nature was no longer just threatening, but the gaze into the landscape became a special experience. The landscape painting becomes the unobstructed counterpiece to architecture. It is first of all the view out of the window. Romanticism then sought the direct and unprotected proximity to nature and finds it not least in the sublime quality of the Swiss mountainscapes. This tradition is quoted in a frieze of landscape paintings with motifs from the Swiss mountains.


The rooms shown are in a dim semidarkness. Light flows through the windows and draws bright lines of light onto the floor. Looking out of the window, in backlight they are very bright, very white. You cannot see anything of the surroundings outside. In a room adjacent to the hall, where the three pictures are hung to face each other, we find a fourth painting. It is smaller than the others and shows, in contrast to the others, the exterior view of a house. The house is bathed in midday sun, which clearly is shining down from its zenith. No people are visible, nor cars on the street in front. The neighbouring houses are quiet. They are considerably older than the building in the centre of the painting. It is noticeable that the house's windows, as well as the windows in the pictures inside, have no frames. Thus we can imagine that this house shows the exterior view of the structure that we have seen as interior spaces in the three large paintings. The proportions of the windows and doors and their arrangement lead us to this conclusion. The view from some of the windows outside reveals the same grid we see in front of the house on the painting of the landscape. The fourth painting summarises three of the larger paintings and makes them disappear in its black window openings,


Translated by Wilhelm Werthern