this issue contains
>> Jeff Koons: Interview
>> A World Full of Multiples: Richard Prince
>> The Art of Shopping
>> Painting at a Rate of 150 Beats per Minute: Michel Majerus

>> archive

Painting at a Rate of 150 Beats per Minute:
Michel Majerus

Nike sneakers are combined with Baselitz quotes, slogans and logos are superimposed over computer game characters – Michel Majerus transferred the method of sampling from the techno scene to large-scale paintings in which visual codes of mass culture collide. Over the span of only a few years, the Luxembourg-born artist created a remarkably vital work that is situated between painting and installation; it is currently being presented in major retrospectives around Europe. Harald Fricke on Majerus’ dynamic mix of art, consumerism, and entertainment.

Performance with dog-mask, 11.6.1992
in the installation by Joseph Kosuth, documenta 9, Kassel, (c)Estate Michel Majerus, Courtesy neugerriemschneider, Berlin

His appearance lasted one hour and remained for the most part unnoticed by most of the visitors to documenta IX . In the room where the works of his former teacher Joseph Kosuth were installed, Michel Majerus donned a dog mask for the opening on June 11 1992 and wandered silently between the works, offering identical masks to the hesitant preview public. Again and again, Majerus sauntered past the black and white text panels containing quotes from Walter Benjamin, in which the American conceptual artist reflects on his relationship to the German philosopher. The room was primarily dedicated to Benjamin’s Arcades Projekt (Passagenwerk), a collection of notes he made in Paris exile that document the arts, politics, and everyday life in the "capital of the 19th century."

Untitled, 2000, Deutsche Bank Collection,
©Estate Michel Majerus, Courtesy neugerriemenschneider

For Benjamin, Paris was the place where capitalism turned into culture. This did not, however, occur without ramifications: to Benjamin’s mind, technological progress and the hunger for the luxury goods of the ultramodern department stores were a hell of eternal return "in which the face of the world never changes, especially in what is newest." It was precisely this criticism of modernism that Kosuth sought to carry on in his work in Kassel. Majerus’ performance, however, aimed at another point entirely: hadn’t he taken on the role of a masked flaneur strolling amidst the decoratively installed sentences? And hadn’t he also – in keeping with Benjamin – drawn a connection between the commodity cult and the culture that so frowns upon consumerism, in which a stroll past a shop window begins to look a whole lot like a walk around the art arena?

Controlling the Moonlight Maze, 2002,
Installation view: neugerriemschneider, Berlin, 2002, Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin
©Estate Michel Majerus, Courtesy neugerriemenschneider

The ironic postmodern method of addressing the insignia of high and low left its mark on Michel Majerus’ work. His documenta appearance, however, was to remain an exception. The room-sized installations of paintings and stage-like settings soon became the trademark of the young Luxembourg-born artist, who died in a plane crash in November 2002 at the early age of 33. At the core, however, Majerus always retained some distance to art’s image-finding processes: he did not believe in painting’s immediacy, but rather in a system of codes and references that can be deliberately combined and transferred into the medium of painting.

Controlling the Moonlight Maze, 2002, Installation view: neugerriemschneider, Berlin, 2002, Photo: Jens Ziehe, Berlin
©Estate Michel Majerus, Courtesy neugerriemenschneider

The fact that a precise order formed the core of this minimal agenda becomes apparent in the various exhibitions in Graz, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Hanover that are now honoring Majerus posthumously as an “exceptional personality in the art of the past several years,” as the preface to the collective catalogue puts it. For the Austrian curator Peter Pakesch, Majerus’ works were "the leap of a new generation out of a total image media universe that made it possible to blend the worlds of comics and computer games with both the triviality of logos and the irritation of art historical quotes and to fill pictorial spaces previously conceived as abstract and make lively spaces out of them existing somewhere between pop and virtual reality." Veit Loers, until recently responsible for acquisitions by the art collection of the Federal Republic of Germany, sees an "artificial randomness" at work in Majerus’ painting that continues to fascinate him to this day; and for the Berlin-based critic Raimar Stange, Majerus is simply an "image-generating machine." It goes beyond question: statements such as these fabricate a legend that would have seemed deeply alien to Majerus. On the other hand, the exhibitions have been distilled from ten years’ work during which Majerus embarked on an unparalleled career that catapulted him from a squat in Berlin-Mitte to the Venice Biennial. The speed of his production and his choice of motifs seemed to match the metropolis’ techno euphoria perfectly: painting at a rate of 150 beats per minute.

Exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz, 2005, Installationsan view, Photo: Niki Lackner, Graz
©Estate Michel Majerus, Courtesy neugerriemenschneider

[1] [2]