Thomas Bayrle: Playtime


The New Museum presents a major retrospective exhibition of the works of Thomas Bayrle (b. 1937, Berlin, Germany).

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“Thomas Bayrle: Playtime,” 2018. Exhibition view: New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

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This solo exhibition—Bayrle’s first major New York museum survey—brings together works from the last fifty years, highlighting Bayrle’s experiments across media and their prescient commentary on the relationship between consumerism, technology, propaganda, and desire.

One of the most important artists to have emerged during the 1960s West German economic boom, Bayrle has received belated recognition for his influential works and processes. Long before the advent of current visual technologies, he foresaw our digital reality, employing photocopy machines and other midcentury tools in his early works to create analog visualizations of what are now fundamental traits of our digital culture. Bayrle’s thematic investigations have ranged from a visual analysis of mass culture and consumerism to reflections on the intersection of technology with global politics.

Presented on the Third and Fourth Floors of the Museum, this comprehensive survey brings together over 115 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, wallpapers and prints, early computer-based art, videos, and 16mm films. The exhibition presents selections from Bayrle’s most iconic series, including several of his rarely exhibited “painted machines”—hand-painted kinetic works inspired by images of Chinese pageants and other mass demonstrations. Bayrle created these works during a period when he was working simultaneously in corporate advertising and for Germany’s student protest movement. In his words, he “mixed communist and capitalist patterns without qualm, simply under the aspect of accumulation.” This logic of accumulation would lead to the development of Bayrle’s “superforms,” densely composed images in which smaller units repeat to build larger figurative forms. These works, several of which will be on view, take the form of silkscreen prints depicting a variety of figures and objects from consumer culture. The exhibition also highlights how the artist has expanded his serial patterns beyond traditional artworks into textiles, wallpaper, carpeting, and garments.

Bayrle’s work has looked at the proliferation and uniformity of the global megacity and its infrastructure networks. The show brings together a number of works he created starting in the 1970s that model anonymous grids of city blocks and highways, which he initially envisioned while working as a jacquard weaver, staring into the hypnotic patterns of thread crossings. Also during this period, Bayrle began to directly address the seductive nature of technology by creating paintings, paper assemblages, and kinetic sculptures that adopt the language of religious icon and symbols. Over the past several decades, his working methods have expanded to incorporate the sort of digital technologies his earliest work anticipated. He was one of the first artists to experiment with computers, and this presentation explores his innovations across a variety of media, including paintings, films, and tapestries.

The Fourth Floor of the exhibition features a number of large-scale works, including Bayrle’s monumental Flugzeug [Airplane] (1984), presented alongside his recent kinetic sculptures made of repurposed automobile parts that repeatedly recite the rosary, as in his much-celebrated inclusion in dOCUMENTA 13 (2012). The five decades of work in this exhibition demonstrate the critical prescience of Bayrle’s output and the profound influence he has had on younger artists working around the world today.

The exhibition is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director; Gary Carrion-Murayari, Kraus Family Curator; and Helga Christoffersen, Associate Curator. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Phaidon, with contributions from Kerstin Brätsch, Mark Godfrey, Alex Kitnick, Oliver Laric, and Christine Mehring, as well as a new interview between the artist and Gioni.

Thomas Bayrle was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1937, and lives and works in Frankfurt. Bayrle was professor at the Städelschule from 1975 to 2005. His work has been shown in some of the world’s most important exhibitions, including documenta 3, 6, and 13 in Kassel, Germany (1964, 1977, 2012), the 8th Busan Biennial (2012), the 6th and 8th Gwangju Biennials (2006, 2010), the 50th and 53rd Venice Biennales (2003, 2009), the 16th Sydney Biennial (2008), the Tbilisi Triennial (2007), the 4th Berlin Biennal (2006), and the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (2005). He has been the subject of major solo exhibitions at MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, Vienna (2017); Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2016); Lenbachhaus, Munich (2016); Institut d’art contemporain, Villeurbanne / Rhône-Alpes, France (2014); WIELS, Brussels (2013); Madre – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, Naples (2013); Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK (2013); Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2009); Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva (2009); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2008); and Museu für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2006). Bayrle has received several awards and prizes, including the Cologne Art Prize (2000) and the Prix Arts Electronica, Linz (1995).

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Lead support for this exhibition is provided by BMW.

Major support is provided by:

National Endowment for the Arts

Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne

Special thanks to Maharam.

Thanks to Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York / Rome; Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin; Galerie Mezzanin, Geneva; and Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich.

We gratefully acknowledge the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The accompanying publication is made possible, in part, by the J. McSweeney and G. Mills Publications Fund at the New Museum.

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