7. September – 18. November 2007
The Kunstmuseum Thun is the first institution in Europe to mount an extensive solo exhibition of works by American artist Mark Grotjahn (*1968, Pasadena, California). Grotjahn studied painting and sculpture at the universities of California and Colorado before settling down in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, where he has since been producing a highly individual and ambitious form of abstract painting. His paintings and drawings are characterized by pictorial ideas recurring in variations and demarcating, by means of a reduced formal idiom, the artist's areas of interest. Central to Grotjahn's work are the "Butterfly Paintings" and "Drawings" with their distinctive radiating bands: fine, tonally-nuanced lines applied in dense impasto layers of paint radiate like arteries towards a point in the middle of the painting. These awaken in the spectators associations with a whole range of painting traditions in modernist art: strictly formalist in concept, they recall Colour Field Painting or 1950s works of Abstract Expressionism. The spiral form immediately provokes mental links with elements of pop culture and the everyday world, conjuring up visions of wheels, propellers and optical kaleidoscope effects, sunsets and endless highways in road movies. This enables the playful dissolution of a paradox: Grotjahn generates abstract compositions with the rules of spatial perspective while simultaneously using the rules of non-figurative painting to create spatial dimensions.
Neither irony nor ambiguity constitute a designation, however, so systematic classification in one of the traditions of abstract art or in a contemporary art context is difficult. Grotjahn's earnest approach imbues his works with a spiritualistically motivated aesthetic: just as Barnett Newman's sublimated "Zip Paintings" can be taken as a reference, the ray-form recalls the Beat Generation, psychedelic states or tendencies in Outsider Art. The large-format strongly coloured paintings and drawings in particular have, in addition to their rationally geometrical composition, a sensual and physical brilliance.
For "Faces" and "Masks" which he painted in parallel Grotjahn drew, in terms of both style and the history of ideas, on this expressive stock of images outside the established art system. The grimaces and fantasy faces are to a degree related to the spiral form, but they are also akin to Art Brut. While revolving around the theme of the self-portrait, they comply with the artist's personal inner logic. The faces hover between the appropriation of another pictorial world and subjective history, and family anecdotes. The drawings by the artist's grandfather, the famous psychoanalyst Martin Grotjahn, which have been integrated into the exhibition, are to be understood in this context: the mainly humorous 1960s sketches were a model for Mark Grotjahn's drawings and they confront the monochrome or multicoloured compositions with a totally different pictorial world.
The exhibition in Thun shows the two poles of Grotjahn's work: a figurative, sometimes childlike pictorial idiom alongside intensely coloured abstract compositions which impart a highly expressive presence to the exhibition space and, in an almost metaphysical way, facilitate a contemplative engagement with the works. This gives rise to the tense relationship between analytical structure and a simultaneously irrational impact, thus making it possible to experience the encounter of abstraction and figuration.
(G/E): Mark Grotjahn, with texts by Madeleine Schuppli, director Kunstmuseum Thun and Philipp Kaiser, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. published by Madeleine Schuppli, Kunstmuseum Thun, ISBN 978-3-906537-21-4, 72 pp, price: SFr. 28.–