DUSSELDORF.- The Kunsthalle
is showing the first institutional exhibition outside the United States of the American painter Chris Martin (born 1954, Washington D.C.). Martin has regularly paid his respects to cherished artist colleagues from the fields of painting and music since the mid 1990s: Pop greats as well as those who work at or beyond the boundaries of the zeitgeist. In some cases, like Michael Jackson, James Brown or Frank Moore, who conceived the red Aids ribbon, the pictures were prompted by their deaths. Such dedications placed Martins expansive compositions on the foundation of a social frame of reference, are gestures of reverence and solidarity.
At the same time, they break with the purity requirements of colour field painting and monochrome painting. The names stand awkwardly and coarsely in the picture space immediately adjacent to pasted on coins, LPs, banana peels and newspaper articles. Despite the crude, thoroughly mundane picture surfaces, Martins work has drawn for over 30 years on various traditions of spiritual abstraction, for which New York, where Martin has been living since 1975, was the melting pot.
The exhibition curated by Elodie Evers and Gregor Janson concentrates particularly on the early works that have never before been shown in such a comprehensive form. They include the monochrome Black Paintings in which the illusion of space is suggested with only a few white lines. Here can be seen as a key work in this group. A geometrical cube in drawn on the centre of a 12-square metre large black ground that rests on a horizon line that leads the viewers glance off into the depths as if through a window.
Parallel to these large-format paintings in which Martin also integrated his art therapeutic work with HIV-infected patients, the painter produced small-format coloured canvases. In them he draws on Christian mysticism and anthroposophical symbols as well as the spiritual landscapes of the North American romanticism that is little known in Europe. The paintings are characterised by energy, intensity and profundity. The painting Staring into the Sun made for Düsseldorf that consists of three panels, depicts a stable and powerful composition that stretches from the wall to the floor. It is an exaggerated light reflection in shimmering yellow and reddish orange hues that reveals Martins enthusiasm for size and proportions as related to the human body, captivating the viewer through its sculptural impression.
Martin comprehends his paintings as objects with a life of their own that do not require the protection of the White Cubes holy spaces. His works hang on building facades or in trees. The Kunsthalle exhibition also extends to the outdoors, demonstrating of all places in the sanctuary of modern abstraction the aesthetic of the sublime how valid the Pop Art legacy, the fusion of high and low culture and the trivialization of the picture can be.
The first comprehensive exhibition catalogue, featuring numerous colour illustrations, essays by Gregor Jansen, Alexander Koch, Bob Nickas, Lars Bang Larsen, and a conversation with Chris Martin and Elodie Evers, will be published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König.