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Michel Majerus' complex and comprehensive oeuvre on view at Kunstmuseum Stuttgart
A visitor of a preview showing stands in front of an artwork, entitled Yet Sometimes What Is Read Successfully, Stops Us With Its Meaning, No. II, by Luxembourgian artist Michel Majerus (1967-2002) at the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart, Germany. The exhibition of the artist, who was killed in a plane crash in 2002, opens to the public from 26 November on. EPA/BERND WEISSBROD.

STUTTGART.- -Michel Majerus only lived to the age of thirty-five and nevertheless the artist left behind a complex and comprehensive oeuvre. In a creative period of just ten years he produced a unique statement about painting that remains relevant today. Majerus worked with diverse techniques and varied subjects and motifs taken from the realm of computers, comics, and advertising. At the same time he made use of art history, drawing on works by artists such as Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, and other representatives of Pop Art and Minimal Art. With his »sampling method« of combining various elements in a free and nonhierarchical manner, he created his own world of imagery and thereby gave painting an important impulse. Because of his works’ large size and their installation character, very few museums have been able to show them in all their complexity. From November 26, 2011 to April 9, 2012 the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart fills this gap with a comprehensive exhibition of more than one hundred of the artist’s paintings and installations, including works on loan from Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and Stuttgart.

The Stuttgart exhibition returns the work of Michel Majerus to its starting point: from 1986 to 1992 the artist studied at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart with, among others, K. R. H. Sonderborg and Joseph Kosuth. Afterward he went to Berlin and lived for a year in Los Angeles. Prior to his death in 2002 he participated in numerous exhibitions in Germany and abroad and today is represented in museums and private collections around the world. Since the generous size of the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart’s ground floor and basement galleries—with their high and long walls—accommodate Michel Majerus’s expan-sive works particularly well this special exhibition will be the first that is not presented in the Cube. The resulting spatial opportunities enable the exhibition to show the range of Majerus’s multifaceted oeuvre, from the early works of his Stuttgart period to those he produced while living in Los Angeles. Furthermore, on more than 2,500 square meters the alternation of concentrated and open areas offers surprising views and perspectives that impressively convey Majerus’s handling of space—a central subject in his artistic creation.

Typical for the artist (b. 1967) are works like the installation comprised of wooden boxes »A 1-7, T 1-7, H 1-7, M 1-7« (1996) or the »sinnmaschine« (1997) that occupy space in an unusual way or even create their own space. The over one-hundred-meter-long wall piece with text written without spaces »one by which you go in, one by which you go out« can be deciphered and actually experienced only once we make our way through the entire basement of the museum. Particularly complex is the spatial arrangement of the last installation, which the artist completed in 2002 before he died in a plane crash. The visitor enters the work »controlling the moonlight maze« through a small entrance and immediately finds himself in the midst of a work comprised of four large-format paintings. Thus instead of standing before a picture surface that projects an imaginary space—as does traditional painting—this cube built of steel beams defines a concrete space.

In order to realize his ideas, Majerus drew on a wide repertoire of methods and techniques: besides acrylic painting on canvas he made use of silkscreen printing, collage, and neon and video works or computer-generated prints and created works on aluminum, PVC, and wood in addition to large-format murals. His mix of completely different painting techniques and his penchant to freely combine art-historical references with the most diverse picture motifs from the consumer world of logos, slogans, icons, and quotations from comics demonstrate Michel Majerus’s nonhierarchical approach to imagery. In the process he very consciously used the technological and cultural developments of the early twenty-first century: »I enjoy making art in the 1990s because it’s now possible to pursue work that isn’t preoccupied with lingering too long at one particular point.« He justified the use of the latest technological means and opportunities such as computers, Photoshop, and beamers as being »as eco-nomically effective as possible« and enabling him to produce in a timesaving manner. These procedural methods also reflect Majerus’s interest in contemporary iconography, popular art, and youth culture. With his multilayered »side-by-side and overlapping« of styles and motifs he responded to the flood of pictures from mass-media society and in the Internet. Raimar Stange once aptly characterized Majerus as a »picture processing machine«; and according to Nicolas Bourriaud Majerus’s works are comprised of the »mnemonic traces of visual impressions.«

In the video piece »michel majerus« from 2000 the artist’s name flickers in continually new constellations on the monitor screen. Majerus took individual stills from the film and reworked them in the medium of painting. What was previously developed successively is now rendered on canvases placed next to one another. The artist’s name gradually breaks up and an increasingly abstract picture emerges. This series of works, which he produced shortly before his death, exemplifies his working method of presenting motifs in continually new variations. Majerus himself compared this method with the sampling technique of techno music: »What interests me about techno is its expanded production opportunities in the sense that all possible influences can be adapted and thereby fused together.« The sources from which the artist created his works are also correspondingly versatile. As such Michel Majerus integrated numerous art-historical quotations in his oeuvre. Along with highlighting his references to Pop Art, Minimal Art, and Color Field Painting the Stuttgart exhibition exemplifies this with Majerus’s reception of Frank Stella’s paintings. The selection of works demonstrates the multifaceted way in which Majerus assimilated the older artist’s work. Some pieces transform a fragment from one of Stella’s paintings into an autonomous picture subject; others give equal status to comic characters, Stella motifs, and figures derived from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s pictorial language.

In addition to this thematic room dedicated to art-historical references, the exhibition also focuses on the artist’s early and late work. The two »Stuttgart Rooms« present for the first time works Majerus produced while a student at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste. Chiefly small format paintings and prints will be on view here. These present a stark contrast to the huge pictures of his late work produced during his sojourn in Los Angeles in 2000-01. In the »Los Angeles« room the image of a large-format videocassette in »xxx« (2001) recalls Pop Art with its interest in surfaces and motifs derived from the everyday world. In its scope the Stuttgart exhibition reveals an artist whose work responded not only precisely and uncomplicatedly but also poetically and in a playfully ironic manner to art history and the digital age, and in the process expanded the range and potential of painting.

It is with the generous support of the Sparda-Bank Baden-Württemberg that the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart’s special feature exhibit »Michel Majerus« was made possible. In securing Sparda-Bank as the primary sponsor, the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart brings on board an extremely engaged partner who values continuity in promoting culture. With this motivation, the credit union approaches this sponsorship of the special feature exhibit »Michel Majerus« as the beginning of a long-term partnership with the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart. SpardaBank, with total assets of 11.7 billion Euros, is the largest credit union in Baden-Württemberg and the second largest in all of Germany. Exclusively focused on private customers and its strong regional representation, Sparda-Bank employs 744 associates in 42 branches. Beyond economical concerns, the bank, which formerly catered mainly to railroad employees, sees itself as an integral and active part of society and supports culture in BadenWürttemberg. Sparda-Bank, motivated by the spirit of shared cultural experience, sponsors, among others, the jazzopen stuttgart, the dance foundation Birgit Keil, and the music academies of Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. Through its own foundation, it oversees the graphics from the estate of Otto Herbert Hajek and organizes over 150 of its own events and exhibits annually.

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