Michel Majerus, "Leuchtland," Sept. 15-Oct. 19, 2002, at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, 536 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Upon entering Michel Majerus' Leuchtland (in English, "Lightland," or, perhaps, "Luminousland") at Friedrich Petzel, one is immediately confronted by a large acrylic and silkscreen work that replicates the somewhat malevolent invasion force of the Space Invaders videogame. Majerus -- himself a bit of an invader in his first U.S. solo show -- sets the tone for an analysis of singularity versus multiplicity by reminding us that not even these invaders are originals. They too are inherently derivative -- indeed, one realizes by the title, Space Invaders 2, that the space invaders represented herein are not even a part of the initial invasion force (arcade game), but the subsequent follow-up invasion force (arcade game).
In simultaneous critique and homage, Majerus asserts that inspiration is not merely the isolated act of the individual -- nor is it a striving for genius. It is, rather, evolutionary, and motivated ulteriorly -- an argument advanced in the second work in the show, an abstraction of happenstance accumulation, Splash Bombs 2.
Next, Your Bad Taste depicts the orange head of another space invader/monster, who is an embodiment not only of yellow "corn" (maybe real, maybe plastic), but of the creature that is literally molded by outwardness (economy, culture, etc.).
Pathfinder, which follows, furthers the reach and self-folding of Majerus's presentation. King Kong straddles the Twin Towers on a 1976 magazine cover -- although the medium, inkjet on vinyl banner, is distinctly contemporary. The wide array of mediums and brush marks that Majerus employs is evidence of the broadness he draws upon, as well as a confession of his own bias and decision-making process in reconstituting that broadness. Bravo, a fifth enormous work, reproduces a variety of cable television advertisements by way of "chemically bonded vinyl banner on Phenolic honeycomb bonded panel."
Not to leave "art" out of Majerus's equation, Pressure Groups 1, Pressure Groups 2 and Pressure Groups 3 seamlessly include the stylistic tendencies of, for example, Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly. But, resistant to the convention of a painter's personal "touch," Majerus's anonymous canvases intentionally subvert specifications of style or maker -- and offer an alternative to individualistic heroics.
Following Tex-Mex (the single painting in the show that is uncompelling, both in its Jasper Johns reference and its expository cultural commentary), Majerus returns to his video game theme. Space Invaders 1 is placed, floor-plan-wise, post Space Invaders 2, and serves as an acknowledgement of the past, and a pointer to memory. (A viewer literally discovers the installation prequel by turning around.) Meticulous with his deceptive randomness, No style No points, by wide, whipping brush marks, indicates a perception shaped by candy colors and semi-intentionality.
A wall of 28 60 x 60 cm paintings in the back gallery is in keeping with Majerus' multiples, and concurrently summarizes the show and states the endlessness of the artist's all-encompassing endeavor. One particular canvas, among the 28, makes this statement:
The art world is so sad because they're these people who make you feel like you're worth nothing or the others who think you're a genius. I don't like any of it.
Initially, this brings to mind the expository problem in Tex-Mex, but, here, Majerus's purpose is more intricate. As suggested by the yellow corn monster of Your Bad Taste, the corporate enterprise encourages a structure of the cult-of-I -- of "genius." It is crucial, to diminish the influence of artistic endeavors, that corporations promote the individual over the art that said individual creates. This is a critical issue, and Majerus is absolutely right to address it, even if his example is a tad beleaguering. The eyeglass paintings do well to imply the distortion of the individual and the distortion of the outer world, as do the found text works that remark, respectively, "Wide Load," and "Ordinary World."
The works Three Beams, and 2 boxes, function as architectural elements. The pieces lace a viewer through the gallery space, and are highly effective at lending an air that is airport and mall-esque. (Paintings, Majerus reminds us, function quite happily in such an atmosphere.) Additionally, by the Pantone-like color of Three Beams, and the mirror-like surfaces of 2 boxes, a funhouse/nightclub attitude is established. As opposed to the romantic vision of the artist in his/her studio, it is the public space, the exposition space that is Majerus' concern. This shift to the consumer is more true to a life in consumerism, as well as more true to a culture where a false sense of individuality is forged by the creative work of others. You buy this record, your wear this hat, and you are so-and-so.
Leuchland makes up an entirety that is almost tragic to break up -- especially the 28 works in the back gallery. It's no accident that in Majerus' overwhelming installation, it is easy to lose track of the individual works -- just as it is easy to lose track of individuals in a complex cultural environment. Disco Electric, however, in the back room, establishes that a single work can command a room -- and bring its superstructure with it. The found text in the painting, "It Crusts the Scar," a line which originates from a techno song, interacts brazenly with Majerus' strobe-light abstraction, and spook-show allure.
In Leuchland (an intentional reference to Coney Island's Luna Park?), Berlin-based Michel Majerus brings his visual party to the United States. Pointedly accessible and pointedly multifarious, Majerus makes a funhouse of the world out there. A scrupulous Barnum, Majerus's spectacle is, as they say, "Colossal and magnificent! Edifyin' and Stupefyin'! Educatin' and exuberatin'! An unregrettable, unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime, one-time opportunity!"
Prices range from $1,000 for smaller works (ca. 60 x 60 cm) to $25,000 for paintings measuring ca. 400 x 660 cm.
JOHN REED is author of Snowball's Chance (Roof Books, 2002).