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majerus wool warhol…skulls and rorschachs

Press release


majerus wool warhol…skulls and rorschachs ​

Michel Majerus, Andy Warhol, Christopher Wool


Curated by Peter Pakesch

This is the second part of "majerus wool warhol...", curated by Peter Pakesch. Entitled skulls and rorschachs, this exhibition features a new selection of works by Michel Majerus (1967–2002), Christopher Wool (b. 1955) and Andy Warhol (1928–1987), juxtaposing the practices of the three artists. This second chapter takes as its points of departure Warhol’s use of the skull as a motif and Rorschach tests as a methodology—imagery and strategies that both Wool and Majerus developed and expanded upon in their own visionary practices.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Andy Warhol—seen skeptically by the critical art-viewing public—was considered contemporary society’s leading portraitist and commentator. Initially creating portraits of stars such as Jackie Kennedy, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, he would go on to broaden the spectrum of those he portrayed in the following years: world-fame for fifteen minutes—whether it be Mao Tse Tung or the socialites of New York, Turin or Cologne. Reception at the time focused primarily on the artist’s use of methods regarded as commercial. Aware of this and of the topics dominating artistic discourse, Warhol countered his mundane portraits with two groups of still lives referencing history and art history: one taking the hammer and sickle as its subject, the other the human skull. The communist symbol, deployed ironically at the height of the Cold War, recalls a contrast similar to that prompted by the juxtaposition of a memento mori and the lives of the rich and famous. With these contradictions, characteristic of Warhol’s work, he illuminates disparate recurrent constants that link his oeuvre with Western art as a whole. Majerus employed the skull motif, putting it to the test and probing what it still had to offer within new pictorial contexts, as he always would with his idols’ repertoire of imagery. The still life is counteracted, with open, associative forms being subjugated to the simple motif. The pithy qualities of Warhol’s Skulls are translated, imbued with new meaning and placed in the kaleidoscope of constantly regenerated electronic images—a reality check by means of traditional painting. 

A decade later, Warhol repeatedly turned to abstract painting. As noted by Rosalind Krauss in her 1996 essay “Andy Warhol: Rorschach Paintings,” the Rorschach series constitutes a complex commentary on the history of American abstract painting—a tradition that Warhol himself is a part of. With the Rorschach works, whose title is derived from Hermann Rorschach’s psychological diagnostic test that sought to reveal personality traits through interpretations of inkblots, Warhol emphasized the medical nature present within them. Warhol considered the Rorschach test to be pathology that should be seen as a metaphor for the human condition. When interpreted as such, Warhol extracts this method of image production from the realm of the formal and abstract and subversively underlays it with meaning, thus integrating it into his own mythological cosmos. Wool radically directs this thought process back to painting, imbuing it with new, existential meaning. From this interaction, a single confrontation yields two subjects: the painter and the viewer.

This exhibition highlights how these Warholian processes were expanded upon by following generations of painters, generations that included Christopher Wool and Michel Majerus, creating a new subjectivism. These methods extend beyond what the images portray and become their own thematic discipline. The possibilities of image creation today, the perpetual media cycle and images’ ability to multiply and become ambiguous are integral to these paintings, transcending technique. Majerus and Wool make these qualities visible and legible. Just as Warhol appropriated and redefined vocabulary from classical modernism and the history of American abstract painting, continued engagement with new media and methods would become indispensable for coming generations. The prevalence of reproductive technologies from photography, film, silkscreening to photocopying and the use of digital media serves as testament to the openness of a constantly developing digital world. The compelling natures of these trajectories within American and European painting in recent decades are manifold and are tangible in these works by Michel Majerus, Christopher Wool and Andy Warhol on view.