Staring into the Sun, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2011
Staring Into The Sun, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2011

The Kunst­hal­le is show­ing the first in­sti­tu­tio­nal ex­hi­bi­ti­on outside the United Sta­tes of the Ame­ri­can pain­ter Chris Mar­tin (born 1954, Wa­shing­ton D.C.). Mar­tin has re­gu­lar­ly paid his re­spects to che­ris­hed ar­tist col­le­agues from the fields of pain­ting and mu­sic sin­ce the mid 1990s: Pop gre­ats as well as tho­se who work at or bey­ond the bo­un­da­ries of the zeit­geist. In so­me ca­ses, li­ke Micha­el Jack­son, Ja­mes Brown or Frank Moo­re, who con­cei­ved the red Aids rib­bon, the pic­tu­res we­re promp­ted by their de­aths. Such de­di­ca­ti­ons pla­ced Mar­tin’s ex­pan­si­ve compo­si­ti­ons on the fo­un­da­ti­on of a so­ci­al frame of re­fe­rence, are ge­stu­res of re­ver­ence and so­li­da­ri­ty. At the sa­me ti­me, they break wi­th the pu­ri­ty re­qui­re­ments of co­lour field pain­ting and mo­no­chro­me pain­ting. The na­mes stand awk­ward­ly and co­ar­se­ly in the pic­tu­re space im­me­dia­te­ly ad­ja­cent to pas­ted on co­ins, LPs, bana­na peels and news­pa­per ar­ti­cles. De­s­pi­te the cru­de, tho­rough­ly mun­da­ne pic­tu­re sur­faces, Mar­tin’s work has drawn for over 30 ye­ars on va­rious tra­di­ti­ons of spi­ri­tu­al ab­strac­tion, for which New York, whe­re Mar­tin has be­en li­ving sin­ce 1975, was the melting pot.

The ex­hi­bi­ti­on cu­ra­ted by Elo­die Evers and Gre­gor Jan­son con­cen­tra­tes par­ti­cu­lar­ly on the ear­ly works that ha­ve ne­ver be­fo­re be­en shown in such a com­pre­hen­si­ve form. They in­clu­de the mo­no­chro­me “Black Pain­tings” in which the il­lu­si­on of space is sug­gested wi­th on­ly a few white li­nes. “He­re” can be se­en as a key work in this group. A geo­me­tri­cal cu­be in drawn on the cent­re of a 12-squa­re met­re lar­ge black ground that rests on a ho­ri­zon li­ne that leads the view­er’s glan­ce off in­to the depths as if through a win­dow. Par­al­lel to the­se lar­ge-for­mat pain­tings in which Mar­tin al­so in­te­gra­ted his art the­ra­peu­tic work wi­th HIV-in­fec­ted pa­ti­ents, the pain­ter pro­du­ced small-for­mat co­lou­red can­va­ses. In them he draws on Chris­ti­an mys­ti­cism and an­thro­po­so­phi­cal sym­bols as well as the “spi­ri­tu­al land­scapes” of the North Ame­ri­can roman­ti­cism that is litt­le known in Eu­ro­pe.

The pain­tings are cha­rac­te­ri­sed by en­er­gy, in­ten­si­ty and pro­fun­di­ty. The pain­ting “Sta­ring in­to the Sun” ma­de for Düs­sel­dorf that con­sists of three pa­nels, de­picts a sta­ble and power­ful com­po­si­ti­on that stret­ches from the wall to the floor. It is an exag­ge­ra­ted light re­flec­tion in shim­me­ring yel­low and red­dish oran­ge hu­es that re­veals Mar­tin’s en­thu­si­asm for si­ze and pro­por­ti­ons as re­la­ted to the hu­man bo­dy, cap­ti­vat­ing the view­er through its sculp­tu­ral im­pres­si­on. Mar­tin com­pre­hends his pain­tings as ob­jects wi­th a li­fe of their own that do not re­qui­re the pro­tec­tion of the Whi­te Cu­be’s holy spaces. His works hang on buil­ding fa­ca­des or in trees. The Kunst­hal­le ex­hi­bi­ti­on al­so ex­tends to the out­doors, de­mons­tra­ting of all pla­ces in the sanc­tua­ry of mo­dern ab­strac­tion – the aest­he­tic of the sub­li­me – how va­lid the Pop Art le­ga­cy, the fu­si­on of high and low cul­tu­re and the tri­via­liza­t­i­on of the pic­tu­re can be.

The first com­pre­hen­si­ve ex­hi­bi­ti­on ca­ta­lo­gue, fea­turing nu­me­rous co­lour il­lus­tra­ti­ons, es­says by Gre­gor Jan­sen, Alex­an­der Koch, Bob Nick­as, Lars Bang Lar­sen, and a con­ver­sa­ti­on wi­th Chris Mar­tin and Elo­die Evers, will be pu­blis­hed by Ver­lag der Buch­hand­lung Walt­her Kö­nig.  (Text: Kunsthalle Düsseldorf)