Exhibition view, KOW
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Exhibition view, KOW
Chris Martin
Cool Drink on a Hot Day
May 3–Jul 27, 2014

KOW presents its third solo exhibition of Chris Martin, born in 1954 in Washington, DC. Martin’s monographic exhibition at KUNSTHALLE DÜSSELDORF (2011) and a monumental presentation at MUSEUM BOIJMANS VAN BEUNINGEN'S Submarine Wharf in Rotterdam (2013) put the New York-based artist on the European map. Since the early 1980s, his oeuvre has built new bridges across the rift between American and European modernist and postmodernist painting, and his art has been wide open to other cultural influences. Taking up the traditions of German Romanticism and Abstract Expressionism, Martin has drawn inspiration from indigenous, far Eastern, and African-American cultures, especially from soul and funk. He has abandoned notions of imperative purity in Color Field painting and reconciled their aesthetic with the popular culture, street art, and eclecticism of our time.

Working against the fantasy of a world founded on and controlled by reason, the Romantics offered the insight that the human spirit’s poetic power paints reality in its own colors. The unconscious and the irrational, the spiritual and the mystical defined a branch of modernism that relativized the Enlightenment, dared to break through the confines of rational knowledge, and doubted the categorical division between subject and object, animate and inanimate. Martin has taken up this idea and given it new twists. He makes art’s transcendental and animist ambitions profane. The presence of landscape, good music and good sex, a starry night and a person’s death, colors and shapes on a surface – all of these are aspects of this painting, and experiences of boundlessness, that we can’t put a finger on and that are yet as tangible as our breakfast every morning: the casual sublime.

Chris Martin strips a classic category of Western aesthetics, the sublime, of all idealization, pathos, and exclusivity. Martin’s work emerges from an awareness of the evanescence of all definite form, the vanity of material existence, and man’s profound connectedness to others, to nature, and to that which binds and transcends both. The universe? Martin puts what we are and think, what we see and do into an overriding structural form. His holistic, integrating perspective does not hew to the physically real; it is also free from assumptions, and jettisons every belief system. Nothing is sacred. It conducts a dialogue with the material and sees its intellectual and emotional transformation from one moment to the next. Beyond reason it continues, avoiding metaphysical and esoteric ghettoes and situating the perception of the immeasurable and incomprehensible within the ordinary world.

The more this work matures, the more open and free it becomes. The ephemeral moment, the moment of existence on the brink of death, seems to be Martin’s point of departure – while his punchline consists in affirming the ephemeral rather than fighting it. He sticks to nothing. Not to styles, not to genres, not to the physical and its meaning. Especially in the pictures of the past few years, which our exhibition brings together, there’s a strong sense of equanimity. “Once you realize if you can’t do the right thing, you can’t do the wrong thing, either,” Martin once said in a CONVERSATION with curator Elodie Evers. The result is undogmatic painting that opens rather than closes down; which does not judge, but rather remains in the flow of the river, carried along by acceptance. If you treasure such a perception in art as well as life, then Chris Martin’s work is for you.

Text: Alexander Koch
Translation: Gerrit Jackson
Editing: Kimberly Bradley
Photos: Alexander Koch

(Summer 2014, by Elvia Wilk)