Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lecture Notes: Thomas Baylre

German artist Thomas Baylre is part of a lesser-known contingent of artists, including Peter Roehr, who came up in the 1960s alongside Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. If ever there was a “Capitalist Realist” it would be Bayrle. In the last few years his profile has risen meteorically. The graphic artist once rumored to have designed the logo for the RAF has been featured in a major installation at dOCUMENTA (13), exhibitions at Air de Paris and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, and a career survey at WEILS Contemporary Art Centre, all within the last year.

Thomas Baylre delivered a lecture for the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago in the spring of 2013. Here are the highlights from that talk:

Thomas Bayrle • billboard installed outside Gavin Brown's Enterprise • 2012 • photo: Art or Idiocy?

I will say 2 – 3 words about my so-called ‘career’.

I was not always aware if I’m a real artist or not.

Apprenticeship in weaving. Like Sculpture. The weaving of society. It is also like mapping.

I am not willing to do anything bigger than is absolutely necessary… Technically.

Chairman Mao brought the potato to China in 1957 because he didn’t want to be dependent on rice. I had a collection of magazines from China and was struck by ads that say, ‘Potatoes only grow if you read the Mao bible’ and other crazy fantasies. I saw stupidity in advertising in the West and in China. Stupidity here and stupidity there. Organizing masses in China for their purposes and in the West we must organize the masses through advertising to buy products.

Thomas Bayrle • Kartoffelzähler (Potato Counters) • 1968 • color screenprint on paper • photo: Art or Idiocy?

It was surrealism, they had to read the Mao bible to make potatoes grow. It is most crazy that it worked.

I tried to join the Leninists and Maoists, but they said, ‘You paint the figures with ties and we cannot have that.’ I learned they are impossible to work with. Stupid people. Any artists trying to work with them learned quickly, it’s not possible.

In World War II women cleaned as ideology, then after the war as products. Always cleaning.

Having US troops stationed in Frankfurt was very important. Since they were drafted, the intelligence of the United States was all there. Plus jazz.

A lot of my images were asked for by advertising agents: ‘Why not try our Glücksklee Milch?’ But they didn’t like it so much. So I kept it, I liked it.

Thomas Bayrle • installation view of "All-in-One" at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels • photo: Sven Laurent

Love and butter.

The figures make the image of what they dream.

Chickens are not happy, but they look happy.

When I did these things I did not think about ideology. I just thought, ‘Here is a terrible man, I will make him out of his mustache.’
Thomas Bayrle • Stalin • 1971 • color screenprint on gray wove paper • 836 x 609 mm
The Art Institute of Chicago

There was no criticizing. I was not criticizing technology. I just like the telephone in my mother. We didn’t even have a telephone at home.

Thomas Bayrle • Telefonbau-Normalzeit (Telephone AT&T) • 1970
Screenprint in colors on wove paper • 35 1/4 x 27 inches (89.5 x 68.6 cm) • edition of 25

Make an image out of images. Make a super image.

Why does Orson Welles have wheelbarrows? His lips looked like wheelbarrows.

My work is like Japanese pod hotels.

We should see the production of everything. This is why I take students on field trips—they should see what’s behind the curtain.

Everyone wants his Mercedes but also wants to get into heaven.

I think without humor nothing is possible.

It comes from the moment when you have to say, ‘I can’t do it any better. I can’t make it perfect.’

I’m not making an ideology out of it, but I do most of it myself. It is also meditation.
Thomas Bayrle • Kartoffelzähler • installation view (with R.B. Kitaj painting) in "Der Geteilte Himmel"
(The Divided Heaven) at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin • 2011 • photo: Art or Idiocy?

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