Klaus Merkel: Madrid Statement

Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 1996

What does abstraction in painting mean today?

Its common form is usually seen in abstraction from nature. But I want to go one step further ‑ in art, and not only today, every picture is abstract from the outset. As such every picture also re‑uses other pictures’ abstractions. Today the availability of the models of abstraction, as it is exercised in modern art, is, in the end, nothing but painting with paintings. In consequence one had to look differently at the conditions of ‘exhibitions’. They are, as it has become a widely received practice, nothing but installations of paintings.

My answer to this current state of affairs is that you therefore have to look at, what I would call, the text between the works in order to recognize not only the defined ‚areas‘ of paintings, but also the new question, how they are framed together.They are like the components of a zip that tears open and closes an argument.

My achievement in the eighties was to realize a new kind of functionality for the painted picture, by transforming by excess a salon hanging into a wallfilling ‘tapestry of paintings’ as a coherent ‘ornament’. I don’t attempt any more to invest paintings with a sacred’ meaning.

To refine and expand this experience, I had to empty the pictures by reducing them to simple types. Thus I could more easily transform them into an autonomous system in which diverse, isolated pictures could be made more universally accessible and in which their contradiction can be brought out. This voluntary ‘abuse‘ is the hallmark of my new model for painting.I simply accept that the exhibition‑installation ‑ as well as the catalogue – have become the defining constituents of painting.

In order to reclaim and insist on the autonomous character of painting and of being‑a‑painter, I had to, in fact, incorporate these strategies into the pictorial aesthetics themselves. Wanting to make art through painting alone, I took in the early nineties the next logical step and conceived catalogue‑paintings which show, in reduced scale, a selection or an extract of my paintings from 1988 – 1994.

The ‘catalogpaintings’ are the test of the demonstrability of my concept as painting. They recapitulate the functions of an exhibition, of a catalogue and of a conceptual scheme, they are a biography in form of a utopian representation of a ‘complete collection’.They represent a glossary, a concordance which thwart any attempt at literary reflection. They themselves are the commentary on the paintings which, in turn, are revealed as nothing but actors in a play, as playing cards, as devalued currency or as text.

The ‘Madrid Statement’was written for a panel discussion for the show NUEVAS ABSTRACCIONES in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.