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First comprehensive overview of Thomas Müllenbach’s paintings and drawings opens in Zurich
Thomas Müllenbach, Radiostation, 2012. Oil on Trevira 40 x 50 cm. Courtesy KATZ CONTEMPORARY Zurich and the artist.

ZURICH.- Thomas Müllenbach (born in Koblenz, Germany in 1949, lives and works in Zurich) turns our everyday perception of familiar things on its head, and subverts the collective understanding of the sense, purpose and value of the visible. These shifts in the everyday are the focus of his attention. In the process, he also repeatedly scrutinises the history of art and explores the possibilities of painting. The exhibition in Kunsthalle Zürich presents the first comprehensive overview of Thomas Müllenbach’s paintings and drawings with a focus on works created specially for this show and recent works, complemented by a selection of earlier works.

Thomas Müllenbach’s interest is constantly aroused by the normal and familiar – be it a jug, a bunch of flowers, a flat screen monitor, the numerous exhibition flyers sent to him, a bank lobby or a bedroom. He does not merely reproduce these things and their surfaces in these works, but captures the everyday, almost imperceptible shifts associated with them and the accompanying moments of irritation. These are the motifs that refuse to leave him alone. When selecting details from images, he omits the apparently important element only to refer to it through a supposedly unimportant one. With his images, the artist presents the viewer with fragments, in which he refuses to follow the traditional conventions of representation, allows the edges of the image to crop heads and objects, and mixes different perspectives in one work so that the viewers can discover the unknown in the familiar, and the familiar is transformed into something uncanny.

The drawing assumes an independent place in Müllenbach‘s œuvre and offers practically unlimited scope for experimentation. A group of large-format works revolves around places in which state-of- the-art technology is used – and frequently also fails. Illustrations from the daily press and specialist publications, from which he reproduces a detail provide the template for these works. Strong graphite lines outline cables, tubes, control panels and complex structures, uniting chaos and functionality and drawing the viewer into the world of high technology. Tschernobyl 1 (2004) symbolically presents one of the rooms in the eponymous nuclear power plant and thereby refers to the nuclear disaster of 1986, which resulted in the explosion of the reactor through the exposure and ignition of the reactor’s graphite moderator. A connection is established here between the hazardous nature of the material used in the reactor and the drawing medium graphite. The ominous occupation of space also plays a role in the works 3 x door to NSA (2014). Müllenbach does not provide a view into an office at the American security authority, but instead shows the closed office door, thereby conveying the importance of the location through a simple, trivial object – the door. The economic and currency graphs which Müllenbach quotes in the work DAX, 26.9.97 (1997) are also something we encounter day in, day out. The artist depicts the course of the German share index in a large-format painting and presents the graph on a green-yellow background, prompting interaction between abstraction and figuration.

In the series of works entitled Halboriginale (‘half-originals’) (2005–2013) Müllenbach transposes the numerous invitations he has received to exhibition and art events since 2005 as objects representative of the ‘everyday life’ of the art world into works of his own. The watercolours, which are presented in a comprehensive space-encompassing installation, reflect their models in their size and motifs: ranging from Dürer to van Gogh, from national to international artists and from figurative subjects to abstract fields of colour, these works play with the idea of recognisability. Müllenbach’s ‘half-originals’ are neither plagiarised nor copied, they involve the individual interpretation of technical reproductions of works of art to form new works.

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