KOW ISSUE 5, exhibition at KOW storage space
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KOW ISSUE 5, exhibition at KOW storage space
Chris Martin
KOW ISSUE 5: Spirituality and Anti-Universalism
May 1–30, 2009

In the late eighties, the New York-based artist and AIDS activist Frank C. Moore designed the “Red Ribbon”, which became an internationally recognized symbol of solidarity for individuals living with HIV and AIDS. Frank Moore died as the result of AIDS in 2002.

Chris Martin, born in Washington D.C. in 1954, was a friend of Moore. From 1989 till 2004, he led therapy groups in several New York AIDS wards and hospices. In 2003, he devoted a painting to his deceased fellow artist. Its title and formal composition refer to the temple complex of Manikarnika Ghat, the most sacred crematorium of India with its stairs and terraces, on which pyres stand, leading to the Ghanges. According to the Hindus, whoever will be cremated here, in the south of Varanasi (Benares), can let his soul escape the circle of death and rebirth and so will be spared the return in a new life.

“High Noon at Manikarnika Ghat (Dedicated to Frank Moore)” is organized in large-sized shapes of red and black and is enclosed on two sides by narrow light blue stripes and crowned by a yellow sun. Bottom right is the dedicatory inscription. We exhibit the 3,30 x 3 meter wide canvas together with drawings of Martin as well as books and catalogues that provide a point of departure for a conceptual placement of this picture and demonstrate to which extent Martin’s formal language reaches out historically and socio-culturally.

New York is the matured metropolis of abstract painting. Nowhere else did the programmatic verve of modern visual concepts of abstraction grow in popularity and even turned into folklore, like here. That is where the latitude for Martin’s work lies. His painting no longer takes the formalism and spiritual absolutism seriously, which the Abstract Expressionist and Colour Field Painting especially promoted. However, it does not immediately give up on its conceptual and mental qualities, but proposes to use them from the actual perspective of different cultures of the everyday.

Regarding the universalistic claim of “Abstraction as world language”, Martin takes a decisive anti-universalist stand, by loosening existentially or spiritually perceived dimensions of abstract visual vocabularies from hegemonial concepts of transcendence and instead, binding them to the daily experiences of actual cultural communities. Chris Martin localizes his paintings in time and space. He refers to real places and landscapes (here even with the time specification “High Noon”), integrates banal objects into the pictures’ surfaces and dedicates them to persons from his cultural surroundings (James Brown, Yayoi Kusama, Amy Winehouse, Kurtis Blow, Isaac Hayes and others). Martin’s dedications are written in solid letters at the bottom of his canvasses, as if the homage as a gesture to another person was the basis on which his paintings could be formally and socially grounded.??

KOW ISSUE 5 is Chris Martins first show in Germany and his first solo project outside the USA.

Concept and production: Alexander Koch and Nikolaus Oberhuber. Text and photos: Alexander Koch