Magazine article Artforum International

Planes, Trains, Automobiles

Magazine article Artforum International

Planes, Trains, Automobiles

Article excerpt

WITH A SPATE OF RECENT EXHIBITIONS AND THE SHOWCASING of his huge image of an airplane, Flugzeug, 1984, at the reopened Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Thomas Bayrle's audience may at last be catching up with the Frankfurt-based artist. One ally, however, seems to have been onto Bayrle from the start: Ludwig director Kasper Konig, an abiding admirer who included Flugzeug in his pivotal 1984 survey of contemporary German art, "von hier aus" (From here out). As Konig has long observed and today's viewers are now discovering, the roots of Bayrle's graphics and experimental printing lie in German Pop, but his interest in art's relation to society has opened up original investigations in which cybernetics and even biology play a part. What emerges are visually perplexing, riveting patterns, drawing on aspects of urbanism, pornography, nanotechnology, and the world of mass-produced commodities. In a catalogue for a 1997 exhibition in Japan, where Bayrle's work has received more attention than in his native Germany, he st ates, "I consider the relationship between individual and collective/community the same as that between dot and grid, the dot representing a component of the grid, and between cell and body, the cell being its basic element." The principle at work--the blending of heterogeneous elements into Piranesi--esque visual patterns-has been central to Bayrle's art since his early political paintings of the '60s. In Mao, 1966, an automatic painting on wood (outfitted with an engine), party members are slowly transformed into a Maoist star and then into the face of Chairman Mao himself. The problem was, Bayrle put neckties on his Chinese Communists, a decision so reactionary that the young artist--Joseph Beuys used to call him "the guy with the machines"--was denied entry to the party when he tried to join. Who said political art was easy?

More and more viewers are fascinated by Bayrle's perplexing investigations into the infrastructure of our visual surroundings. Although Bayrle is becoming better appreciated for his work, he's been at the epicenter of a network of creative connections across generations and geographies for three decades. Not all great artists are interested in teaching, and it's even rarer that they're good at it. But it does happen, and Bayrle is a case in point: The artist's tenure at the Stadelschule has made him a key figure in European art. Now in his mid-sixties, he has given younger colleagues like Martin Kippenberger and Andreas Slominski the chance to teach, and some of his recent students, such as Tobias Rehberger, are stars in the gallery and museum world. On any given day you may find Bayrle designing a book for Philip Johnson, cooking stinging-nettle soup with Rirkrit Tiravanija, or producing new work for shows in Germany or Japan.

We asked Konig to sit down with Bayrle to talk about his work as an artist and teacher. They met up in front of the massive Flugzeug, a work that has taken on new layers of meaning after the events of 9/11.

KASPER KONIG: In 1984 we included Rugzeug in the exhibition "von hier aus." It hasn't been shown since then?

THOMAS BAYRLE: The sixty-two parts that make up the whole work were packed away somewhere in a box. Strangely enough, I happened to pull them out again on 9/II. I had hung up about half of the strips on the wall when I heard somebody call me from the balcony: "Something terrible has happened! A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center." I stopped what I was doing immediately, and rather than sit down in front of the television, I walked down to the Rhine.

KK: What prompted you to make such a huge cloth of cut-up photos in the first place?

TB: Since the early '60s I've been interested in the idiotic, absurd, grotesque images of mass production and consumption. In addition to coffee cups, oxen, cars, and telephones, I've used airplanes as components within a larger compilation of parts. …

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