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Artist’s Talk: Florian Merkel in the Kunsthalle Tübingen

On the occasion of the exhibition Man in the Middle – Menschenbilder ( Man in the Middle – Human Images) from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the Kunsthalle Tübingen has invited the artist Florian Merkel for a talk. Merkel, some of whose works can also be seen in the exhibition, began coloring black and white photographs by hand in the GDR – as birthday presents for friends and acquaintances. The artist, who was born in 1961 in Chemnitz (Karl-Marx-Stadt), perfected this process throughout the nineteen-nineties: “An egg-white glaze is used to color the photographs, resulting in the glaze penetrating the photographic surface without leaving behind any traces of its application. The artificial coloration of the photographs brings about a loss of reality in the representation, which seems too brightly lit, synthetic, and hence unreal. In connection with the backdrop-like scene and the blurry line that arises from the coloration, the heightened effect is perfected,” Karin Moos wrote in 2000 in a text for the exhibition catalogue 100 Masterpieces .

Florian Merkel, Ohne Titel, 1993, Deutsche Bank Collection

Florian Merkel often uses classical motifs from Greek mythology, the Bible, or episodes from German history. Thus, in the series 100 Masterpieces , he reconstructs scenes from the works of old masters and Classic Modernism before a backdrop of new Berlin; in the series Aspekte demokratischen Zusammenlebens (Aspects of Democratic Coexistence), he illuminates the political and social terms of an enlightened co-existence; and in the series Urban defendability, young people holding Molotov cocktails demonstrate their “defendability” in front of the new buildings at Potsdamer Platz.

Florian Merkel, Ohne Titel, 1993, Deutsche Bank Collection

“There’s supposed to be an illusion of reality, yet at the same time the viewer notices that reality can’t be this way. This break is the result both of my way of coloring and of certain image details and props that can have a disturbing effect,” Merkel explained in an interview in 1996. A four-part series from the year 1993 shows a family in their house in a country setting: children playing in the garden, parents with a child walking in the woods. Viewing the brightly colored images could initially lead one to think that an idyll is being emphasized in an especially sweet way here. At the same time, a very uncomfortable feeling arises, because the colors look positively poisonous. Something’s wrong with this scene. What is being shown here, actually: an idyllic scene? Or a drama? Before the mirror of history, political or social projections, Florian Merkel’s images of humans pose questions about life as it’s lived today.

The artist’s talk with Florian Merkel will be taking place on September 25 at 6 p.m. in the Kunsthalle Tübingen. The exhibition Man in the Middle – Menschenbilder can be seen from September 13 through November 2, 2003.