Throughout his short but prolific career, Michel Majerus captured the spirit of his time – decades marked by the expansion of globalised consumer culture and digital technology. His large-scale paintings and installations are characterised by the visual sampling and collage of an eclectic repertoire of imagery and text. Borrowing freely from art history, video games, advertising and electronic music, his work resonates with the frenzy of images and information that pervades contemporary society through the ubiquity of the internet. Thus, Majerus transgressed the rules of painting and reinterpreted the pop culture of the 1990s and early 2000s. He used these influences in a way that implied an engagement not only with broader cultural developments, but also with the parameters of artistic practice and reception in a way that is still relevant today.
Majerus’s installations typically explored the growing role of the digital, allowing visitors to walk through and experience emerging visual cultures in an immersive way. SINNMASCHINE [Sense, or Meaning Machine] (1997), the departure point and entrance to the exhibition in the Grand Hall of Mudam, is one of these. Referencing The Man-Machine (1978), the iconic album by German electronic music band Kraftwerk, its industrial metal floor resembles a dance floor on which visitors’ footsteps resonate. Majerus worked with different techniques, themes and motifs from the world of computers, comics and advertising, and put them in dialogue with art history. In the installation of SINNMASCHINE, we can see these conversations happening: brands such as Nike are treated equally to references to artists such as Gerhard Richter and Majerus’s own works. With this sampling method which freely and non-hierarchically combines different elements, Majerus created his own world of images and gave painting important new impulses. Through exaggeration, stylistic breaks, fragmentation or deliberate confrontation, he questions the relationship of images to reality, creating his own artistic spaces within exhibitions, transforming his work into an environment.
In a scaffolding structure that refers to the architectures that he himself repeatedly built in a variety of formats, Mudam displays a selection of his multifaceted paintings from diverse phases of his creative career. In the manner of a research exhibition, Michel Majerus. SINNMASCHINE illustrates the manifold ways in which he translated his research into painting. His library is integrated into the structure, which gives a clear indication of his varied but time-typical interests; his notebooks and collected publications allow for differentiated readings of this artistic practice. In addition, Majerus’s VHS tapes – from copied video material from state television, MTV and VIVA recordings to documentaries and feature films – lend a new urgency to his paintings, adding additional context and depth to the flatness of most of his works. This juxtaposition of archival material with the paintings can significantly change the way we look at Majerus’s work, and we hope to deepen our current understanding of the artist and his relationship to art history and the discourses of his time. A publication based on last autumn’s symposium, what looks good today may not look good tomorrow: The Legacy of Michel Majerus will complete this expanded view and will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. The publication will be the first in a series of studies co-published by Mudam and Sternberg Press.
Curated by Bettina Steinbrügge, assisted by Clémentine Proby
Location Grand Hall
For more information visit mudam.com
Michel Majerus, Ohne Titel, 1993
Acrylic on canvas/ Acryl auf Leinwand
214 x 311 cm
© Michel Majerus Estate, 2023. Courtesy Private Collection
Photo/ Foto: Jens Ziehe, Berlin