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Jonathan Meese

TOTALZELBSTPORTRAIT

1 Oct 2011 t/m 22 Jan 2012

Art does what it wants, not what the artist wants. The artist may be ill, stupid, dead – art is not interested. It is the ‘Dictatorship of Art’ that Jonathan Meese (b. 1970) propounds. Submit to art and you no longer need religion. In sharp contrast, however, Meese’s oeuvre is in fact a ‘total self-portrait’. A portrait with many faces, for Meese plays the role of child, animal and dictator simultaneously.

Part of the latest generation of German artists, which also includes Daniel Richter, as a mid-career artist Meese is already a big name in painting, admired by great German painters like Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz. He trained at the art academy in Hamburg and regularly exhibits all over the world. As a tribute to German painting, GEM museum of contemporary art in The Hague is staging a major retrospective of Meese’s paintings, sculptures and recordings of his legendary performances.

Jonathan Meese Meine Fratze ist harmloser als meine Katze (die freundlichtste DIKTATUR), 2006

At first glance, Meese’s art has a raw, unscrupulous feel. It has the air of an exorcism, an artist responding to the violence and perversion of the modern world. On closer inspection, however, one discovers the humour and childlike frivolity. Meese’s paintings are giant brightly-coloured collages of paint incorporating individual words, phrases, symbols and likenesses of the artist himself. The childlike quality is also reflected in his choice of materials, which includes the use of children’s toys in large total installations.

The self-portrait

The self-portrait is the unifying theme of this exhibition. Meese’s likeness appears in almost all his work. At first he would have himself photographed or depict himself in his role as artist, in his studio, along with paint and brushes. But Meese gradually began to assume roles: the prophet ‘Meesiah’, a dictator, a soldier, Dr. No, Humpty Dumpty: increasingly unrecognisable and wearing masks. Meese is an uninhibited collector of characters, from dictator Adolf Hitler to Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson. He uses these individuals as symbols, transports them to the world of art, where he can play with them. It is above all this childlike, unrestrained approach and submission to art that inspires younger generations of artists.

Art is not religion, art is art

Self-portraits tend to be associated with self-satisfaction or narcissism. But in Meese’s case this couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything points to his extreme modesty. He is just as happy to completely obliterate his ego. His work contains no vestige of self-expression or self-analysis. Art is never expressive, Meese believes. It is an image, a painted canvas, it cannot have a soul, or at any rate cannot embody part of his soul. Meese holds a mirror to the art world. Art is not religion, art is art.

A lavishly illustrated catalogue with an essay by Lynne van Rhijn has been published to accompany the exhibition (Buchhandlung Walther König € 27,50)