“On occasion, Munch quite simply fought with his pictures. He would jump at them, tear them apart, kick them.” Munch understood this “damage” as an integral part of his way of working, and in so doing included the constant possibility of the failure of his “kill-or-cure treatment” on a conceptual level.“Just wait until a few rain showers have passed over it, or it gets a few tears from nails and whatnot and has been transported in all kinds of miserable boxes . . . yes, with time, it might turn out to be quite good.”
Munch’s physical attack against the painting and the destruction of its surface were as unorthodox as his application of paint and his radical experiments with the material and the impact of the wind and weather on his works. He is a key link in what Monika Wagner has described as a material-based “other history of modernism,” a line of development leading from William Turner, Gustave Courbet, through Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque, to Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffet, Emil Schumacher, and Jackson Pollock. The importance of material in art has shifted profoundly in the twentieth century. Not only was the decisive importance of materiality recognized by modernist art, the physical properties of the works themselves were now assigned a significance. Although Munch never abandoned figuration during any of his many phases of development, he was the first artist to attack the material integrity of the artwork with such radicalness, not only by “damaging” his works, but also allowing nature to create with his “kill-or-cure treatment,” even at the risk of the destruction of the works themselves.
Rudolf Polanszky’s works are also part of this other history of modernism. With great tenacity, he works with industrially made materials like Plexiglas, foam rubber, Styrofoam, tin, foil, and duplex boards. He finds all his materials as refuse or remains, at scrap metal dealers, construction sites, or in public space, and the traces of prior use and manipulation are always inscribed in the work. Some materials, like duplex boards, the artist allows to age outdoors, like Munch subjecting them to the wind and weather until the effects of nature create the right patina and curvature of the board. In Munch’s sense, he allows nature to do its work, “to summon quasi-random elements.” As of the 1890s, Munch consciously began subjecting his paintings to the wind and weather, and understood the traces of the elements as part of his art.
But the process of weathering is only controllable to a certain extent. Chance, just like the handling and transport damage that Munch also accepted, was part of these changes to the works that are independent of his will and consciousness. In Polanszky’s Tierstempelbildern (Animal Stamp Paintings), animals like birds, foxes, or martens that the artist consciously attracted with bait left their traces on the pseudo-geometrical compositions and materials placed on the floor of his outdoor studio. In this way, nature’s creation and the traces inscribed in the material become the DNA of his process-based works.