An artist’s monument to the monotony of images

Very often political art is defined by its subjects. The besieged people painted by Su Ko and the victims of the war described by Katha Kolwitz reveal the advanced worldviews of these artists. But artists can also reveal their politics through the style of representation they have chosen. The pointillism of Paul Sinak and some of George Sourat’s other followers is such a possibility. Instead of blending their colors, these artists call on the viewer to synthesize autonomous color points, thus creating a more vivid image than can be found in traditional painting. For these artists this procedure had clear political implications in that it takes every point into account.

Of Thomas Bayrell Monotony in a hurry It is a neo-pontylist display, made of what the artist calls “superforms,” ​​which take the traditional pontylist procedure one step further. Three images, each five feet high, are displayed in Gladstone’s main and extra-spacious gallery. At first it feels like one of the huge public screens in Times Square has been placed inside a Chelsea gallery. After passing the reception desk and entering the main room, stand back to look at the wall to your left and in the center “Xi Jinping” (2021), a portrait of the Chinese Prime Minister, will reach the center. Get closer to this wall and you will see that this portrait is cunningly constructed from a huge selection of small rectangular pictures of Chinese workers, using prints on recycled fabric mounted in a massive metal frame attached to the wall. That the figure of the ruler of China is composed, literally, of images of Chinese workers is an ambitious political statement that deserves to be dismantled. The ruler is made up of his population; Alternatively, the population is included in the prime minister’s description. On the right wall, “Pope” (2021) consists of digital prints of pope shoes on tiny wooden boards. Opposite it on the left wall “Kim’s Smartphone” (2021), a portrait of Kim Kardashian built from digital prints on aluminum. You will indeed need to own a magnificent real estate to collect even one of these works. Bayrell needs a lot of space, a luxury in our crowded art world.

Thomas Bayrle, “The Fifth Pope” (2021), artistic pigment print on paper, mounted on gallery cardboard, 38 1/2 x 39 3/8 inches (© Thomas Bayrle, VG-BildKunst, Boone. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery)

A neo-impressionist painting looks best from a distance so that the scene depicted comes into focus, but the correct position for photography before Bairl’s pictures is unclear. Which experience of Xi Jinping is more real: seeing the huge picture of the prime minister in the distance or the masses of workers up close? When we look closely at images on our computers, the images dissolve into a field of pixels. For this reason, these three great works are not fundamentally vague. Xi Jinping, Pope and Kim Kardashian are celebrities, whose photos look very familiar. Yet they are unknowable to most of us because they are present to us only as they are replicated in such images. They are, as the Gladstone website points out, “everything is a picture.” As we get closer to these images of themselves, these works dissolve into Bayerl pixels. His art thus captures their strange, disembodied presence as superstars of communication.

How, then, should we interpret these images? Bayrell’s process must be very intense. How much work is required to sketch and construct these three images, which need to be assembled in the remarkably high space at Gladstone? Bayer dismantled pointillism, for instead of the very vivid visual world of the neo-impressionists he creates an art gallery version of computer reproductions of unreality. His art resides in a world made up of repetitive ready-made images.

Installation view of Thomas Bairl: Monotony in a hurryGladstone Gallery, New York, 2022 (© Thomas Bayrle, VG-BildKunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery)

In a suggestive speculative description of our time, as seen from a utopian future perspective, left-wing art critic Ben Davis speaks of “the destructive levels of waste and toxic pollution left by the capitalist system at a late stage that led to the collapse of the ecosystem.” Monotony in a hurry? Bayrell’s comic non-economic way of creating images creates a very special aesthetic effect, bringing to the art world a visual experience usually associated with glorious public advertising art. Politicians, religious leaders and Hollywood celebrities are all equal for him. And it shows how the image duplication techniques associated with the flat screens of computers and smartphones can have a legitimate place in the art world. But at the price: it needs tremendous resources to create this aesthetic effect. That’s how, at least, I see his works.

But in a wonderful video accessible on the Gladstone website, Bayrell offers a completely different analysis. And so he should have the last word here. Monotony, he says, is the most beautiful thing he knows. Judging from this video, he looks completely happy, which is reason to believe he knows what he’s doing.

Thomas Bayrle, “Kim Kardashian (2)” (2021), Acrylic pigment print and art on canvas, 55 x 59 inches (© Thomas Bayrle, VG-BildKunst, Boone. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery)

Thomas Bairl: Monotony in a hurry Continues at Gladstone Gallery (530 West 21st Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until April 23rd. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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