German art in London: meet Michael Riedel
This year, there’s a few big-name German artists coming to London. In September you’ll see the legendary Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy. Expressionist giant George Baselitz has shown paintings at Gagosian and renaissance drawings from his personal collection at the RA, whilst his extended show continues at the British Museum.
Which raises the question: what of the generation behind Keifer and Baselitz? Well, meet Michael Riedel. He’s 41 and making an enormous stir with his work, which can currently be seen at David Zwirner in Mayfair until 31st May. Based in Frankfurt, this is Riedel’s first solo show in London. And while his work can be seen as the opposite of Keifer and Baselitz’s heroic paintings, one could perhaps draw a line of connection between Riedel and veteran German artist Gerhard Richter’s use of old news imagery in his photo-paintings.
Riedel, a tall and laconic figure who looks splendid in Scott Walker-style sunglasses and late-Mod haircut (“I’m still in love with my fantasy of the ’60s”, he has said), claims his work is 'naive'. He explains that the Zwirner show is two exhibitions in one.
Downstairs, he has hung work from a series called Oskar which consists of photocopied and found materials. Oskar is also the title of a new book that will debut at the exhibition, named after an abandoned building on Oskar-von-Miller Strasse in Frankfurt. With friends, Riedel transformed the structure from an old junkie’s squat into an experimental art space with a lively events programme that even included Friday-night dinners at Riedel's studio. He has said it was like 'a giant copy machine' and in a sense it quotes earlier experimental spaces, namely Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Riedel has a penchant for re-staging events, texts, objects and recordings, in all kinds of media as if to disavow artistic authorship. 'This is us recreating a photograph by Cecil Beaton of the Factory', he says, pointing to one work called Warhol Shooting (2001). In front of another: ‘this is an H&M advert which we put an Oskar sticker on.” Along the wall is a poster by artist Jim Isermann, taken from an installation that was binned after it was shown. Rescued by Riedel and his friends, they then reinstalled it in their own space: a natty comment on value. Riedel claims they, 'made it twice as bad as it was'. Riedel and his collaborator Dennis Löesch even produced their own Frieze Art Fair catalogue in 2004.
Central to Riedel’s practice is the idea or possibility of ‘infinite reproduction’. On the facing wall he has copied old and new masters – from Egon Schiele to Richard Hamilton – with tracings of the artworks overlaid on them, rather like graphic design used to look prior to the computer. “We use an overhead projector,” he says. They seamlessly collapse time and space. "Here’s a kind of ‘family tree’ of arthistory, copied and pasted," he says. "It’s the history of one year.”
Riedel’s relish for reproducing images in multiple layers is clearly attached to his experience of image making tools and methods. “The Xerox was my favourite thing at art school,” he says. But his work isn’t just some retro-hip use of analogue technology and today he frequently uses a computer. As he rightly claims he’s part of the “first generation that grew up digital" which makes him entirely attuned to endless reproduction.
But surely Riedel isn't just reproducing out of nostalgia? It seem that he is concerned with the mutation of reproduction or the lack of authorship today - but who knows? Riedel is a bit of a prankster and certainly not one for giving fixed explanations of his work. Nevertheless, making art with Riedel sounds a lot of fun. When the artists Gilbert and George came to Germany, Riedel hired two actors, called them “Gert” and “Georg,” and filmed them walking a few steps behind the famous ‘living sculptures’. Were they annoyed? “No. They made a group portrait with us.”
Upstairs we see newer works: informational “wallpaper” pasted onto the walls, endless typographic glyphs climbing the space. These constitute the new Laws of Form series. So what are the Laws of Form? “The laws of form are what we see outside”. On the walls you’ll see screen prints inspired by Microsoft’s PowerPoint, a program used for corporate presentations. Riedel is interested in this form of replicating information and how it blurs and dissolves between frames.
While Riedel is what we call a ‘conceptual’ artist, he resists the idea that his art is “cool and dry”. Indeed, he has “a lot fun doing it”. And perhaps a slight head-scratching quality is part of his work. As he says, “Complexity is part of the aesthetic.”
Michael Riedel, Laws of Form is on from 5 April– 31 May at David Zwirner, 24 Grafton Street, London W1S 4EZ
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