Klaus Merkel at Max Mayer / Düsseldorf

Klaus Merkel

30.10.2015 – 19.12.2015

Max Mayer
Worringer Straße 64
40211 Düsseldorf 


Images courtesy the artist and Max Meyer

The problems of painting – colour, contrast, figure/ground, surface/line, texture, gesture,
realism/abstraction – their presentation and reception are complex insofar as they are not solvable
in the traditional sense. Each particular solution reconfigures the questions of the whole. The
painter Klaus Merkel (b. 1953) has taken on this dispositive in his practice for over 30 years. His
earliest exhibitions already positioned themselves again the auraticisation of individual paintings by
means of unorthodox installations – images installed as clusters, blocks and series – while
self-consciously addressing their character as a specific form of showing. These image installations
culminated in his 1988 solo exhibition at the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen in
Düsseldorf where he presented 25 large format paintings on a single wall of the otherwise empty
exhibition space, transforming the paintings within this ‘hyper-frame’ into a single image.
Influenced by an age of ongoing crisis in the artistic, economic and ideological spheres, what soon
followed was a sharp rupture in his painting practice, a turn that would open up unexpected
perspectives and potentials with regard to what can be negotiated in an image beyond the ‘Crisis of
Representation’ (Ann Goldstein).

Klaus Merkel first presented his Katalogbilder (catalogue images) at Galerie Annette Gmeiner in
Stuttgart in 1993. In a series of freestanding panels, Merkel presented a serial index of his entire,
previous body of work, each image repainted at one tenth of the original scale. He thus managed
not just to devalue the unique image with respect to its copy or its copyability per se but also to
integrate the organisation, reception and circulation of images (and their copies) – a catalogue as a
left over derivative of the ephemeral structure of the exhibition – into the images themselves,
asserting this organisation, reception and circulation, so to speak, as his own right.

He subsequently created an index which provided him – as well as the recipient – with the
foundation to ‘paint images with images,’ as he often says. By removing the loaded factor of artistic
creation from the equation, he managed to produce a certain emptiness (not unlike On Kawara,
Ad Reinhardt, Louise Lawler and others) through repetitions in various arrangements, series and
formats and increasingly it is this very emptiness which allows one to focus on the constitutive
meta-levels of artistic production and reception. Beyond the medium specificity and material
dynamics of painting, he succeeds in aestheticizing the surrounding, constitutive contexts of art,
thus making them directly experienceable and objects of negotiation.

 Upon considering our era’s hyper-specific, accelerated circulation and consumption of installation
views, Klaus Merkel’s investigations become more relevant than ever. Platforms like Tumblr or
Instagram, alongside blogs, magazines and catalogs, are, at least quantitatively, becoming the primary form of reception and more and more images of art are being seen than ever before. But
under which conditions and with which consequences?

 In response, Merkel formulates the demand that each image must be able to stand alongside other
images and contexts, i.e. somehow good. An image must always be more than just a reference in
the ‘painted discourse,’ (Markus Brüderlin) through which a sophisticated system of recombinations,
in which each individual element configures the coexistence of all, becomes possible. He thus uses
every painterly register needed, not just to present the images agents but also to produce an
inventory of his own craft. Flat surfaces against rough brush strokes, hard vs. bleeding edges,
washes, wet in wet, much flatness but also pastose spots, transparencies and opacities. Thus the
Salate (salads) series, started in 1995 with its spontaneous, expressive and non-reproducible
gestures, became somewhat of a stabilising antagonist to the rigid structuredness of the Katalogbilder.
The series became stabilising in the sense that the works provided and still provide a real
foundation, potentially developing new surfaces and platforms for, stages so to speak for the
Katalogbilder’s installations.

 These movements within the painterly rhizome, shifts in its visual inventions, enable new
perspectives and insights just as much as they confront us with new paradoxes and dilemmas.
The works made for and presented within the framework of the exhibition hydra at Galerie Max
Mayer, three large and one middle format image, are testimonies to just such shifts. All of the works
on display address issues of modification and adjustment as well as the entanglement of diverse
spatiotemporal layers. They are new investigations and postulations but not without the possibility
of progression, not without the possibility of carrying the other within oneself and thus creating an
awareness of the end of the end.

Roy Huschenbeth