The Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst is presenting Michel Majerus’s large-format Ölbild (Oil Painting, 1994) for the first time in dialogue with artistic positions from the Peter and Irene Ludwig Collection. Seeing it vis-à-vis selected works by Georg Baselitz, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jasper Johns, Martin Kippenberger, Roy Lichtenstein, Kenneth Noland, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol and others, provides deeper insight into the formal-aesthetic discourses that Majerus conducted in his artistic development. These echo in both his works and his notebooks, which served as a basis to select the works. The list of artists shows the large range across what at first glance seem to be contradictory influences on Majerus. It also reflects, however, the sad truth that in the 1990s the art world was still absolutely male-dominated.
Majerus’s skilful sampling of quotations from pop culture, comics, advertising and motifs of other artists and the new lightness in his painting in comparison with the 1980s made him internationally well-known. He treats the popular iconography of the 1990s just as freely as he does artistic stylistic devices, whereby he trims his found objects in such a way that they undergo a change from an illustrative pictorial element to one that comes across as ornamental or abstract. Here, stylistically confident composing with cut-outs is not his sole interest, as the models used form a reference system of their own. For Ölbild, one can name Jean-Michel Basquiat and Rolf Kauka, illustrator of the Fix & Foxi comic books, among others. The motifs here are – as always in Pop Art – sensations of the new, and thus have short half-lives. As illustrated in the draft of Ölbild, which is also in the Ludwig Collection, the painterly gestures with which Majerus expressed himself are not a direct impulse, but rather carefully thought out. They serve the compositional balance that determines the quality of his works.
Michel Majerus (1967–2002) studied painting from 1986 to 1992 at the State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart, with, among others, K.R.H. Sonderborg and Joseph Kosuth. Even the choice of his professors – a painter who worked expressively and gesturally and an internationally renowned conceptual artist –shows the freedom in which Majerus developed his artistic way of working. After his studies he moved to Berlin, where he then lived and worked, apart from a one-year stay in Los Angeles in 2001.
Majerus had his international breakthrough in 1998 with his contributions to Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg. In 1999, Harald Szeemann invited him to design the external facade of the Italian pavilion for the Venice Biennale. He created a collage of text and images entitled Sun in 10 different directions. With his work if we are dead, so it is, a half pipe 455 qm in size, painted in the year 2000 for an exhibition at Kölnischer Kunstverein, Majerus succeeded in stepping into three-dimensionality. Michel Majerus died in a plane crash on November 6, 2002, aged 35.
Twenty years after his death, numerous institutions, including Kunstwerke (KW) Berlin, Kunstverein in Hamburg, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Museum Folkwang Essen, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Mudam Luxemburg, Kunsthalle Mannheim, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Lenbachhaus in Munich have dedicated the exhibition series Michel Majerus 2022 to the various phases and aspects of the artist’s extraordinary oeuvre (www.michelmajerus2022.com).
Curated by Holger Otten
As part of:
In cooperation with:
Michel Majerus Estate, Berlin