The Law of Series
Thomas Bayrle at the New Museum

Rarely has art from Germany looked as cool as that of Thomas Bayrle. In the 1960s, a decade marked by social change and upheavals, the Frankfurt artist, who is represented with a group of works in the Deutsche Bank Collection, developed a very distinct, subversive variant of Pop Art. Bayrle is fascinated by industrial mass production, by the world of advertising and products, as well as by technology and machines. He has remained true to these themes up to the present day. Now Playtime, the first comprehensive exhibition of the artist ever mounted in New York, documents how his work has developed since that time. It is only logical that the New Museum organized the show, inasmuch as it is devoted exclusively to current artists. They can be newcomers, or artists such as Bayrle, born in 1937, who has continually experimented with new media and who as a teacher at the Städelschule in Frankfurt had a strong impact on current art stars such as Tobias Rehberger.  

On two floors of the New Museum, around 115 works are on view, including a selection of painted wooden reliefs from the 1960s. The figures in the works are set in motion by motors. In Mao und die Gymnasiasten (Mao and the High School Students), Bayrle has battalions of Chinese Red Army troops march, while in Ajax (1966) German housewives swing mops. During this period, Bayrle was primarily interested in the ornament of the masses. “I hardly paid any attention to ideological differences and – against the protests of my leftist friends – mixed communist and capitalist elements and contents together.”

Then, in the late 1960s, Bayrle developed his typical style. He arranged hundreds of identical cans, shoes, and airplanes into so-called super forms. One car is composed of hundreds of cars. Grids, series, and repetitions become trademarks. He even printed plastic raincoats with endless grids of cows, shoes, and cups that could be bought for 45 marks at Kaufhof department store. In the spirit of Pop Art, art becomes an everyday object; the difference between artworks and consumer products is called into question.

Among the most recent works in the exhibition are the kinetic sculptures that caused a stir at the 2012 documenta. They consist of disassembled aircraft and automobile engines, accompanied by a soundtrack of prayers and rosary devotions – a choreography between man and machine. Mantra-like, windshield wiper blades move back and forth continually, just like the mops of Bayrle’s housewives from the 1960s.

Thomas Bayrle is closely tied to Deutsche Bank. He is not only represented with more than 100 works in the Deutsche Bank Collection, but the bank also sponsored his exhibitions I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore (2009) at the Museu d´Art Contemporani de Barcelona und One Day on Success Street (2016/17) at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. With a paper relief the artist is also represented in The World on Paper. The opening exhibition of the PalaisPopulaire, Deutsche Bank’s new forum for art, culture, and sports, is on view starting September 27.

Thomas Bayrle: Playtime
6/20/2018 – 9/2/2018
New Museum, New York