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Frankfurt Intersection

Doing away with the pork sausage image: a diverse scene of artists, galleries, and institutions has developed in Frankfurt am Main. One individual particularly responsible for this fact is Thomas Bayrle, the professor at the Städel School who set the creative boom into motion. The banks have also contributed considerably towards the city’s international reputation as a creative hub that boasts artists the likes of Tobias Rehberger, Ayse Erkmen, and Jeppe Hein. On the occasion of Art Frankfurt, Silke Hohmann offers a summary of the exhibition and art activities currently taking place on the River Main.

Thomas Bayrle, Lindwurm, 1970
Deutsche Bank Collection
(c) Thomas Bayrle

When it’s a matter of art “made in Frankfurt/Main,” Thomas Bayrle has been at the very center for over 35 years. The artist was celebrated accordingly upon retiring as professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (Städelschule). On the occasion of Bayrle’s 65th birthday, Frankfurt’s Städel Museum is currently dedicating a big one-person exhibition to the Berlin-born artist, who addressed the phenomenon of mass production more or less simultaneously with Andy Warhol in his serial graphic works from the nineteen-sixties. For many, it’s unclear whether Bayrle’s departure heralds the end of an era, but one thing remains certain: he played a major role in Frankfurt’s transformation into one of Germany’s leading art metropolises. And he was responsible for introducing Pop Art to the German centers of banking and finance.

Along with well-known objects such as the Tassen-Tasse (“Cups Cup”) from 1969, a precocious work in which Bayrle formally and thematically investigated consumerism and the dominance of materialism, the Städel is also presenting new works in which the artist harks back to a former motif of his: the highway. Back in the seventies, Bayrle built cardboard models of three-lane highways bundled up into tangled patterns or hieroglyphs ; well before the onset of a collective ecological awareness, his prayer wheel-like, repetitive litanies on jobs, ecological questions, highway construction, insurance, and general uneasiness pointed to the chronic headache of the “system.” Last year, he developed a gigantic wall piece on this complex of themes that went by the title Maschendrahtzaun (“Chain Link Fence”), which could be seen in a similar form at the 50th Venice Biennale – in close proximity to Tobias Rehberger, probably his most successful pupil.

Thomas Bayrle, Autostrada,2003
Courtesy Babara Weiss Gallery, Berlin
©Thomas Bayrle

Tobias Rehberger, Vorderes Hosenteil, 1995 Deutsche Bank Collection
(c) Tobias Rehberger

Indeed, Bayrle is a kind of “Frankfurt Intersection” in the busy traffic of the German art scene, where a number of important lanes come together and separate again. While his own visual language is unmistakable, the formal approaches of his students are noticeably many-faceted: from painting and design-oriented installations to documentary and scientific experiments, Bayrle’s students cover a wide variety of genres. Thomas Bayrle seems to have been less concerned with teaching a way of making art than with thinking itself: conceptual, yet without being dogged; open to every discipline while remaining precise in the work’s execution.

Tue Greenford, Daimlerstr.38, 2001

In the meantime, a new Städel generation has emerged, including the Bayrle students Tue Greenfort, Jeppe Hein, and Simon D. Møller. When Frankfurt’s long-time local big fish Kasper König took over the direction of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and the Dane Daniel Birnbaum followed in his tracks as director of the Städel and the associated Portikus, a small but noticeable group of young Scandinavian artists came to Frankfurt, making it, as in the case of Hein, into the larger exhibition venues such as the Shirn and from there to the Biennale in Venice – with an art that humorously analyzes everyday phenomena while remaining strictly conceptual on a formal level. For his ant terrarium, for instance, Tue Greenfort received the annual “Rundgang” prize funded by local sponsors. In his various projects, the Danish artist had already sought dialogue with animals, which he offered decent living conditions in return for taking part in his art works. In Frankfurt’s eastern industrial districts, home of the Städel School artists’ studios, Greenfort discovered a thriving fox population and set up a camera at night, baiting the shutter release.

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