The Madre presents the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to the Swiss artist John Armleder (Geneva, 1948), whose work, starting from the mid-60’, is divided in drawing, painting, sculpture, environmental installation, performance, video, sound and music works, critical texts, editorial and curatorial projects.
Armleder is one of the great masters of contemporary art, yet his artistic research seems to be constantly oriented to overcome the disciplinary and intellectual boundary that separates, or claims to separate, art from life. His work appears as an ode to the freedom of making art and thinking art, operating a radical and multifaceted reinvention of the work and the format of the exhibition, of which re-reads the respective orders of meaning and their public perception, hovering above the codes of the critique or the closed narratives of history of art. In his works Armleder unites, in a pervasive, provocative, intellectual and formal synthesis, different elements such as case and project (graphic and design), high culture and entertainment, alienating irony and conceptual analysis, functional objects of common use and aesthetic research.
Author of numerous collective projects in the ‘60s and ‘70s, within the Fluxus research field. In 1969 in Geneva, Armleder with Patrick Lucchini and Claude Rychner founded the Groupe Ecart, which would bring numerous artists to Switzerland and Europe, in particular Germans and North Americans of the international underground and experimental scene. From the beginning of the ‘80s Armleder is often associated to the Neo-Geo research (“Neo-Geometric Conceptualism”) and to their adoption of an impersonal style and incorporation of everyday objects in order to oppose themselves to the neoexpressionist subjectivism and emotionality. Armleder often adopts the practice of collaboration as a strategy to “cool” the artist’s personality or the univocity of the work. For example, with the artist and musician Steven Parrino (honored in the collective book Black Noise), or Christian Marclay (co-author in 1985 of a performance at The Kitchen, New York, then resumed in 2017, Simultaneous Duo Versions, in which the two artists simultaneously present versions of their performative actions and of other artists such as George Brecht, John Cage, Kurt Schwitters and LaMonte Young), or Sylvie Fleury and Mai-Thu Perret.
Retracing the entire research of the artist, the exhibition deepens, for the first time, all the aspects of Armleder’s artistic practice, including more than ninety works. In the first rooms there is a selection of drawings from the ‘60s, followed by a selection of the Furniture Sculptures produced since the ‘80s and consisting of sculptures composed of reassembled furniture items. In some cases they become real environments, such as in the case of Untitled (Bar FS), 2003. The presentation of Armleder’s pictorial production includes the series of Dot Paintings (paintings formed by various types of patterns but whose subject is always the dot, the basic element of each graphic production), of Pour Paintings (paintings formed by draining pure pictorial material) and Puddle Paintings (paintings in which the pictorial material is distributed on the canvas placed horizontally on the floor, also incorporating threedimensional
For the first time the exhibition brings together also all the major works created by the artist in Italy – such as, at the beginning of the exhibition path, the two twin paintings (Untitled, 1988) presented for the first time at the Europa Oggi. Arte contemporanea nell’Europa occidentale show at the Pecci Museum in Prato, or the installation with disco strobospheres (Untitled (FS), 1995) presented for the first time at the 3rd edition of the periodic exhibition Fuori Uso in Pescara – and includes a new series of tributes to the city of Naples, almost a hypothetical contemporary version of the Grand Tour.
A brain in a glass and a skull-mirror are presented at the beginning and at the end of the exhibition. They reconstruct the dynamic between life and death that permeates the Neapolitan culture. The Wall Paintings, made especially for the exhibition, are the background to the presentation of other artworks. Among them there are also some fragments of frescoes from the Villa di Poppea in Oplontis, which Armleder incorporates as if they were everyday objects similar to those used in his Furniture Sculptures. This encounter between ancient artifacts and the contemporary work is the first of the Pompeii Commissions connected to the Pompei@Madre. Materia Archeologica exhibition. These Commissions foresee the possibility to use the fragmentary, or damaged over the centuries, “archaeological matter” of Pompeii, to create new works of art that connect the various eras in which the Italian cultural heritage is structured and allow the public to access to what of this heritage lies in the deposits of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, thus giving it a new public diffusion.
In addition, two new canvases by Armleder, created for the exhibition, are placed on the left and right side like two wings introducing a new unedited contemporary presentation of Tiziano Vecellio’s Danae, a masterpiece in which the image of the deity, Jupiter, transformed into golden rain to settle the young mortal woman, echoes in the dripping and in the subtle game of the two- and three-dimensionality of the Puddle Paintings. This critical and playful tribute to one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance and Baroque collections of the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples resumes and completes the intervention realized in the same museum by Armleder in the fall of 2017 with SPLIT!, a site-specific wall painting placed in dialogue with the founding work of the contemporary art collections of the Museo di Capodimonte, the Grande Cretto Nero (“Large Black Cretto”) by Alberto Burri (1978). Armleder reflects its structure in pure color, subverting however the aesthetic, intellectual and historical assumptions: unlike the material consistency of Burri’s work, in SPLIT! Armleder adopts a composition that is subtracted from the thickness of the third dimension, to be articulated directly on the walls of the room. He reverses the monochrome of the Cretto – and through it also the suggestion of the light-dark color contrast of Caravaggio and the entire Caravaggesque school – preferring a multi-color palette inspired by the porcelain and biscuit of the Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte, another decorative and furnishing element that the artist incorporates to eliminate any supposed difference between major and minor arts. Armleder re-presents to the Madre both the work to which SPLIT! is inspired – the 1984 Sans Titre (“Untitled”) lacquer on canvas, presented for the first time in 1986 at the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale – and a subsequent version, creating a real loop between Madre and Capodimonte and among different versions of the same works-matrices, delineating an history of art that does not pose neither methodological nor chronological boundaries. In this perspective it should be read the title that Armleder has identified for this retrospective at Madre: 360°.
We could say that the art of Armleder is an art that stands out for the conscious absence of a specific medium and a consistent, unclassifiable style, as one would expect from an artist who belonged to the Fluxus movement: Armleder defines an aesthetic which is not hierarchical but liberating and democratic, based on the infinite variation, and even contradiction, of the creative process. “I have no gender”, he declared, preferring to think of himself as “a [Francis] Picabia”, an artist who worked within a systematic self-contradiction, and who never stopped doing “different things”. Armleder responds to space-time, color, shapes, structures and materials in a similar, indefinable and personal way, which is self-ironic and self-thoughtful. In his paintings, wallpapers, piles of bricks, Christmas balls clusters, tangles of fluorescent neon, sculptures/assemblages of objets trouvés – like rolled carpets coming from other artists’ exhibitions (the red one on which Maurizio Cattelan exhibited the effigy of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite or the blue one exposed at Madre Museum by Wade Guyton in 2017 for his personal exhibition SIAMO ARRIVATI) – Armleder recognizes and welcomes the daily life in which the artist is immersed, treats art as life, revealing its full potential.
Each visitor will therefore experience this exhibition in his own way, based on his personal experiences. And perhaps for this reason the artist has conceived the exhibition at Madre as a dedication to the city of Naples: a single large installation that tells of an encounter, and shares its experience, its progress between the sacred and the profane, high and low, cultured and popular or, simply, between art and life.
After the first solo exhibitions in various European institutions – Kunstmuseum Basel (1980); Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Freiburg (1982); Kunstmuseum Solothurn (1983); Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (1984); École Nationale d’Art Décoratif, Limoges and Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva (1986) – in 1986 John Armleder participates in the Venice Biennale (Swiss Pavilion). His following solo exhibitions include the Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture de Grenoble, the Nationalgalerie Berlin, the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Kunstverein Düsseldorf (1987); Le Consortium, Dijon (1989; 1996; 2014); Centraal Museum, Utrecht (1992); Villa Arson, Nice (1993; 2007), Wiener Secession, Wien (1993); Ratti Foundation, Como (1996, where he is also a visiting professor, in the same year, of the Advanced Course in Visual Arts); Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden and Casino Luxembourg-Forum d’Art Contemporain, Luxembourg (1998); MoMA, New York (2000); Kunstraum Innsbruck and Magasin, Grenoble (2001); Kunstraum HBK, Braunschweig, Kunstverein Ruhr, Essen and GAMeC, Bergamo (2004). In 2004 Kunsthalle Zürich and ICA of Philadelphia host a retrospective of his works on paper, and in 2005 the MAMCO in Geneva dedicated a large retrospective, followed by solo exhibitions at Tate Liverpool (2007); Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis (with Oliver Mosset), Institute of Modern Art / Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane and Musée d’Art Contemporain, Saint Etienne (2008); Kunstmuseum, Sankt-Gallen (2010); the Carte Blanche at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and Away at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (2011); Warwick Arts Center, Coventry and Swiss Institute, New York (2012); Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot (2014). In 2015 the windows of La Rinascente, Milan, host the special project Let it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine. It’s Xmas again! (consisting of an installation of wall paintings and colored Christmas balls, a section of which is reconstructed in the exhibition at the Madre), followed in 2016 by the project for the multimedia façade of Museion, Bolzano/Bozen, and the most recent personal exhibition in a public institution, at the Istituto Svizzero, Roma (2017).