Michel Majerus: Progressive Aesthetics
ICA Miami presents “Progressive Aesthetics,” the first US museum survey for Michel Majerus, which explores the late artist’s prescient work by taking up his rich and varied interpretations of capitalism and cultural imperialism as they relate to art in American culture. Created at the threshold of the twenty-first century, Majerus’s works expound on themes of transformation and are characterized by a fascination with speed, openness, and transmission. The artist’s works explore his passion for technology, youth culture, and art history—all united by his obsession with the power of art and institutions.
The exhibition brings together works from throughout Majerus’s brief but dynamic and prolific career, highlighting their timely reflection on and criticism of the pervasiveness of images. “Progressive Aesthetics” begins with works from the early 1990s, and sees Majerus exploring the story of modernism, antagonizing twentieth-century avant-garde movements, their power, and limitations. Engaging with the influences of art history on Majerus’s work, the exhibition also includes abstract paintings that quote modern masters such as Willem de Kooning and Frank Stella.
Dispersed throughout the many paintings in “Progressive Aesthetics” are six works from what may be considered the artist’s most famous images: serial screenprint appropriations of the famed (and at one time infamous) 1984–85 collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Considering himself a collaborator with the elder artists, Majerus remakes the image, flattening it and adding near mechanical flourishes. A meditation on genius and the notion that mastery yields originality—as well as the complex myths of his artistic forebears—these signal works contain many of Majerus’s key themes and illustrate his belief in the cultural impact of art.
While based in Berlin during his adult life, Majerus visited the United States a number of times, significantly while on a yearlong residency in Los Angeles in 2000–01. His fascination with pop culture, the American landscape, consumerism, and violence are major themes of the “L.A. Paintings” series, which includes XXX and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (both 2001). Again citing Warhol, another 2001 work 3mmT-2 depicts a NASCAR crash as a large-scale spectacle of unbridled capitalism and disaster. The “Splash Bombs” paintings, another major group of works on view, pictorialize the logo for a water toy in commercial fonts, with the effect of employing a double entendre that introduces the menace of violence into the seduction of popular culture.
Majerus’s work took manifold forms and mediums, which this exhibition can only begin to encompass. Continuously experimenting with the expansion of painting into space but also into the digital realm, Majerus used new technologies of digital reproduction early on, illustrated in works like yet sometimes what is read successfully, stops us with its meaning no. I (1998). New Comer (2000) depicts the brightly colored text of its title made by using commercial lacquer on aluminum. The text work WHAT LOOKS GOOD TODAY MAY NOT LOOK GOOD TOMORROW (2000) demonstrates the extent to which art is defined by the time in which it is created, and the relationship of taste to economic and cultural factors.
Michel Majerus (b. 1967, Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg; d. 2002, Luxembourg) lived and worked in Berlin after studying at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart (1986–92); he worked in Los Angeles in 2000–02. Significant exhibitions include a radical installation for his solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel (1996), a commissioned mural for the main exhibition at the Venice Biennale (1999), and a solo exhibition at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (2000). Various museums have organized posthumous exhibitions of Majerus’s work, including Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (2011) and CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux (2012); a series of retrospective exhibitions began at Kunsthaus Graz and traveled to Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Deichtorhallen Hamburg; Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover; and Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2005–07); Tate Liverpool (2004), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2003). Majerus’s work is held in the collections of numerous international museums, including the Tate, London; Moderna Museet Stockholm; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Art Institute Chicago; Mildred Lane Kemper Museum of Art, Washington University, St. Louis; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Kunstmuseum Bonn; Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, München; Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main; and the Museum MMK für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main.
“Michel Majerus: Progressive Aesthetics” is organized by ICA Miami and curated by Alex Gartenfeld, Artistic Director, and Stephanie Seidel, Curator.
Lead support for Michel Majerus is provided by the Nicoll Family Fund.
Additional support is provided by Matthew Marks and Stefanie, Andrew and Rebecca Reed, in honor of Evan J. Reed.