Thoughts & Insights

Art, Complexity and Management

The third stopover of the Global Encounter Tour: OUBEY in Vienna

On 14-15 November a number of OUBEYs paintings were on view at the Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna, a prestigious international management conference. The central issue dealt with by this year’s conference was Managing Complexity.

From his early years OUBEY always had a passionate interest in complexity, what it actually is and what significance it holds for the world and the cosmos. In his art he strove “specifically not to reduce the complexity of reality to a hidden simplicity following an elementary order but to leave the world in the enchantment of its complexity and uncontrollability.” The three minute film “OUBEY Complexity is a vivid expression of such an understanding at work.

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Showing OUBEYs art in the context of the Drucker Forum posed three main questions or rather three major challenges:

  • The question of how to manage complexity, the main issue dealt with by the Drucker Forum, and the basic understanding of complexity as expressed in OUBEYs art seem to stand at diametrically opposite poles. So what would happen if these radically different attitudes – the “desire to preserve the enchantment of uncontrollability” on the one hand and “the desire to manage complexity” on the other – were brought as close together as the limits of such a conference would permit?
  • The second question was whether in the intellectual verbal tightly packed conference program with its rounds of talks and discussions, the silent immediate universal language of OUBEYs paintings would be strong enough to gain a hearing on its own terms. In other words, whether, without being an explicit theme of the conference, it could gain the attention and excite the interest of the manager delegates.
    This question was all the more compelling because the time available for viewing was limited to the conference breaks, and in aggregate only came to around five hours over the two day period. Distribution of time blocks made this issue a real challenge.
  • And finally the interior architecture of the Haus der Industrie where the conference was held, with its splendid marble floors, ornate pillars and portraits of Austrian emperors was a lavish and omnipresent neo-classical backdrop rivaling for attention with OUBEYs paintings.
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Art exhibitions are usually held in settings whose sole purpose is to promote and facilitate undivided attention on the works of art on display. In Vienna, however, the context of the conference and the conference schedule brought a whole host of interrelated issues and factors into play, all clamoring for the attention of the conference participants. And it was impossible to say how all this would color the ways participants viewed OUBEYs art. In short, there was all the stuff for a potentially unsettling situation.

Once during the preparing for the exhibition, I wondered whether it really was such a good idea to expose OUBEYs art to such a three-pronged challenge. Now with hindsight I can only say that I’m very glad to have gone ahead with my decision. Not only did OUBEYs paintings hold their own against competition from the lush and lavish backdrop but over the course of the two days excited an ever keener interest on the part of the managers. On the first day this interest first went for the paintings themselves and then expanded to include their companion Encounter Videos. The encounter model on film seemed to inspire many people to venture and make their own Open Encounter with an unknown painting by OUBEY. On the second day the interest increased rapidly and in fact there wasn’t enough time to give everyone the opportunity to do an Encounter themselves, which is very much to be regretted, but an amazing and impressive resonance as well.

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I’m also especially pleased that I went ahead with my idea because the conscious decision not to make OUBEYs art part of the official conference program meant that it had the chance to prove its power of attraction in a more subversive manner outside the conference rooms. Commenting on this at the end of the conference, one manager told me, “When I first managed to snatch a few minutes to look at the paintings during yesterday’s lunch break, I found that they drew me in completely and wouldn’t let go of me in a nice way. So I took more time out during the next break and now I’ve just made my own Encounter. It was a fantastic experience with a fantastic painting. And I think that I now have a much better understanding of what complexity actually is.” OUBEYs art seems to awake inquiring free-ranging minds – one of the key conditions for a constructive approach to complexity.