The conceptual artist Tobias Rehberger is born in 1966 in Esslingen, Germany. From 1987 until 1992 Rehberger studies with Thomas Bayrle and Martin Kippenberger at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste / Städelschule in Frankfurt.
A general starting point for Rehberger’s work is his engaging with the aesthetic conditions and semantic dimensions of design culture. The models of Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Verner Panton, and Isamu Noguchi become important points of orientation. In Rehberger’s works commodities acquire new spaces of reference and as a matter of course ascend to the realm of art. Moreover, with his works he refers back to a tradition that is closely connected to the »Werkbund« and the Bauhaus. These groups of architects and artists had proclaimed for the first time the impact of living spaces on the psyche, on social structures, and political processes.
Shortly after finishing his studies, Rehberger creates early works that focus on the expressive potential of standardized production. In 1984 he has his first soloexhibition at the Frankfurt Gallery Bärbel Grässlin. There he shows, seemingly without an authorial or artistic basis, enlarged reproductions of works by his father, an engineer and hobby artist, which he entitles Rehbergerst. The works shown include paintings, drawings, and pieces of furniture. These artistic »reproductions« are, almost as a consequence, followed by works within the genre of the portrait, works that decidedly examine the personal character of artefacts.
Rehberger’s works with portraits start with the series Doppelbetten in the same year. He asks women friends to design beds which he has made and then exhibits. The production of a piece of furniture, exactly as requested, changes the anonymous object into an expressive portrait of the person who ordered it. Starting in 1995, he creates vase portraits in the same way, conceived as representative of persons. The design of the vases and the specific selection of flowers are supposed to alter the everyday object into a character portrait that is, once again, co-determined by the one who is being portrayed (Ronald Jones 1998, Antje Majewski 1998).Rehberger’s works thus assume a dialogical character, activated, especially, through the act of viewing situated within a museum context. His series Fragments of their pleasant spaces (in my fashionable version), the first part of a long-term project that starts in 1996, expands the idea of the vase portraits to the decoration of rooms. The arrangement of furniture to achieve the most attractive and comfortable places of relaxation (seating arrangements, other pieces of furniture, TV-corners)is redone according to the ideas and wishes of his friends. With this, Rehberger tends to refer to postmodern concepts of design of the later 1980s and the 1990s. However, he does not understand these works to be reproductions of life-style concepts. He rather wants his works to be seen as short-lived and transientevocations of portrait-like living spaces.
Since 1997 Rehberger’s works – for example, the installation Günter’s (wiederbeleuchtet) in Münster – have been present in urban spaces. As part of the exhibition »Skulptur, Projekte in Münster« he turns the unused roof terrace of a lecture building into a space for recreation. It becomes an intimate living-room bar way up, causing personal intimacy at a distinctive and at the same time anonymous place. In 1998 Rehberger’s works are shown in solo museum exhibitions for the first time, for example, at the Kunsthalle Basel and the Moderna Museet Stockholm.
Since 1999 works have emerged that intensely engage with phenomena of memory and of the creation of archives. Rehberger’s shelf works entitled Libraries hide thematically arranged film archives. Selected film scenes are projected onto the backside of the shelves that are not visible to the viewer, they are only perceivable as light reflections. In a similar way, light becomes a »carrier« of memory in another work: His memorial booths Dusk (2000) provide the opportunity for the viewer to enter the computer simulated light conditions prevalent on the days two publicly-known persons died.
A further work series focuses on the inter-cultural interpretations and contexts of drawing. With simple DIN A4 pencil drafts Rehberger has German chairs, armchairs, furniture »to sit on«, made in Cameroon (Peuè Seè e Faàgck Sunday Paàe (We don’t work on Sundays)). In Thailand he has German cars made (nana, 2000). He sees the results as evidence of the different ways of reading drawings, a medium that is supposedly universal. Every standardization, Rehberger argues, causes productive and creative supplementation through the gaps and ellipses in its instructions. He pursues similar interests with his video-installation 3T where he re-stages a Japanese tea ceremony, in a multicultural »cross-over« in the Black Forest. Rehberger participates in the Expo 2000 in Hanover through creating a Japanese garden that in the middle of summer turns a bonsai into a winter landscape with a snow cannon (Tsutsumu 2000).
Since 2001 Thomas Rehberger has taught sculpting at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. He lives in Frankfurt and Berlin.
Tobias Rehberger, Geläut bis ich’s hör…: Ausst.-Kat. Karlsruhe Museum für neue Kunst ZKM, hg. v. Götz Adriani, Köln 2002
Tobias Rehberger. Applesandpears: Ausst.-Kat. 3 Bde. Köln 2002 (Bd.1: Tobias Rehberger … (whenever you need me): Ausst.-Kat. Westfälischer Kunstverein Münster, hg. v. Susanne Gaensheimer; Bd. 2: Tobias Rehberger, »the secret bulb in Barry L.«: Ausst.-Kat. Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, hg. v. Jan Winkelmann; Bd. 3: Tobias Rehberger, seascapes and other portraits: Ausst.-Kat. Frac Nord-Pas de Calais, hg. v. Katia Baudin)
Tobias Rehberger. 005 — 000 [pocket dictionary]: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. Florian Matzner, Ostfildern-Ruit 2001