October 27 - December 17, 2016
Opening reception: Thursday, October 27, 6-8pm
"All the artists want is to serve democracy, religion, their ego, or their career. ... It's a culture party. ... Art will be the savior, not the artist. ... I have to serve art. I don't serve myself." - Jonathan Meese, 2016
David Nolan Gallery is pleased to announce DR. TRANS-FORM-ERZ, a survey of nearly 70 drawings from over two decades by Jonathan Meese. On view from October 27 through December 17, the exhibition marks his first collaboration with the gallery and his first solo presentation in New York since 2011. A fully illustrated catalogue co-published by David Nolan Gallery and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, with an essay by Pamela Kort, accompanies the exhibition.
Meese’s work includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, and performances but also extends to writing, stage design, and directing within the field of theater and opera. His practice addresses certain uneasy aspects of German political history and seeks to adopt ideological symbols and empty them of meaning. The subjects of his work have included Richard Wagner’s three act opera “Parsifal”, and more recently, the American actor, John Wayne. Wayne’s portrayals of unconquerable cowboys in over 80 Westerns, serve as the inspiration for a new suite of drawings entitled ERZMARSHALL. Newly conceived for the exhibition is an immersive installation that occupies an entire room. Combining painting, drawing, and sculpture, the work provides an environment in which the viewer can bear witness to Meese’s wide-ranging imagination.
The central importance of drawing in Meese’s career is underscored by an anecdote that the artist has recalled about travelling through Hamburg with his mother on his 22nd birthday. When asked what he would like as a present, the young Meese requested paper and pencils so that he could begin making drawings. In his subsequent artistic career, he has channeled and exploited the possibilities of the medium, deploying a range of techniques, working with cotton-rag papers, appropriated imagery in the form of photocopies, and over-painted photographs of himself in various guises.
Meese’s work has been the subject of solo museum exhibitions including Revolution at Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover (2002), Képi blanc, nackt at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2004), Mama Johnny at Deichtorhallen Hamburg (2006), Jonathan Meese: Sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (2010), and MALERMEESE - MEESERMALER at Museum der Moderne Salzburg (2013).
His works are featured in several private and public collections internationally, including Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hall Art Foundation, New York; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg, France; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; De La Cruz Collection, Miami; and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.), Ghent. Meese was born in 1970 in Tokyo and now lives and works in Berlin and Hamburg.
Inspired by the singular if unfashionable vision of Franz Erhard Walther, under whom he studied at Hamburg’s Hochschule für Bildende Künste in the late 1990s, Jonathan Meese has developed a self-consciously grandiose vision of “total art” that continues to shape his output and its reception. This exhibition, “DR. TRANS-FORM-ERZ,” gathered seventy-odd drawings made by the German artist over the past twenty years or so, but only scratched the surface of his expansive and deliberately contrarian practice. A scattershot installation of works on paper in the gallery’s ground-level space was paired with a chaotic new installation in its upstairs room; together, these constituted a partial but characteristically ripe sampling of Meese’s various fixations, which are centered on historic cultural figures from Nero to Stalin, Richard Wagner to John Wayne.
The last time that New York saw Jonathan Meese, it was in 2011, for a show at Bortolami Gallery titled Hot Earl Green Sausage Tea Barbie (First Flush) and an opening-night performance, War “Saint Just (First Flash).” For the performance, Meese — a striking figure with long black hair and a thick beard, a black leather overcoat cloaking his signature Adidas tracksuit — preached the doctrine of his Dictatorship of Art in urgent, piercing English and German. After the crowd dispersed, what remained of the spectacle looked like a DIY film set for an intergalactic battle between James Bond, the Nazis, and some mutant-alien femme fatales.
For Jonathan Meese: Dr. Trans-Form-Erz, the artist’s first exhibition at the David Nolan Gallery, Meese’s self-made world is this time contained within a relatively streamlined installation, one that offers the viewer an opportunity that can be hard to come by in his practice: unmediated contact with the imagery, with attention given to the artist as a painter and collagist whose work has developed over time.
When he was younger, the German provocateur was often labelled an enfant terrible. But Meese, now forty-six, is still churning the history of his homeland into anarchic, sexually charged, and reliably sloppy paintings, plays, and operas, none of which are for the easily offended. (The artist has been tried and acquitted in German courts more than once for the crime of using the Nazi salute in his performances.) His first New York outing in five years features comparatively decorous works on paper: ballpoint sketches of sprites wearing the Iron Cross, illustrated books slathered with fluorescent paint, and a powerfully indecorous portrait of Richard Wagner, whose redemptive “Parsifal” is one of the artist’s touchstones. A large-scale installation—a walk-in fun house of collaged body parts and anxious scrawling—gives a sense of Meese at full blast.
Is it cheating, one wonders, to mount an elegantly installed, well-balanced exhibition of wild and wooly, hyper-expressive messy work by painter, sculptor, and performer Jonathan Meese? Such is the dilemma posed by “DR. TRANS-FORM-ERZ,” a selection of some seventy works on paper created over twenty years. A self-proclaimed mama’s boy with a bad temper, the eccentric German artist, born in Tokyo, was deeply influenced by American popular culture. He shows his love for retro Hollywood with portraits of a John Wayne hero, Zorro, Lolita, Mr. Spock, and other characters. Other drawings give comeuppance to history’s villains: Stalin, Caligula, Nero, and of course, Hitler. Not least in this mix is Meese himself, whose drawn and photographed likeness appears in many collages.