‘It is as though his pulsating images have already danced their way into the atavistic chambers of the collective mind, as if his characters are now somehow imprinted on ribbons of DNA to be transmitted genetically to future generations’
Unveiled at Paul Maenz’s gallery shortly after its creation in 1984, Keith Haring’s Untitled is a prophetic masterpiece, synthesising his most iconic motifs into a showdown between man, nature and technology. One of the earliest paintings known to depict a computer, it offers a monumental vision of a world on the brink of transformation, drawing myth, art and science into a riotous bacchanal. The device itself is held aloft upon a gigantic pyramid, like a new deity enshrined upon an altar. Beside it, a spaceship and a human brain are balanced by an anthropomorphic pair of hands, as if weighing mankind’s capabilities against an alien future. All around, chaos ensues: some people bow down in worship, some cavort in ecstasy, whilst others are ensnared by robots and many-headed beasts. Aeroplanes and UFOs take to the skies, soaring in battle with winged angel-like figures. References to ancient culture and belief systems join hands with futuristic fantasies, blending visual ideas from graffiti, hieroglyphics and cartoons with influences from music, dance, literary theory and linguistics. Combining four panels to create a gigantic three-metre square, the work marks Haring’s transition from tarpaulin to canvas at the height of his artistic powers. Having started life drawing on New York’s subway walls during the early 1980s, he developed a practice that eloquently addressed contemporary issues through complex semiotic tableaus, articulated with the improvisatory flair of a jazz musician. Erudite historical references, derived from long hours spent in the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, combine with allusions to pop culture and socio-political affairs, all channelled through his distinctive graphic language. In the present work, against an acid yellow backdrop, Haring riffs upon the dawn of the technological age, celebrating the monstrous miracles of this brave new world.
‘I use a lot of contrasting symbols like the pyramid and flying saucer’, explained Haring in 1982. ‘The pyramid is connected with an unknown force, mystery and magic; maybe people once thought they could store their own energy in that kind of building. The pyramid stands for an ancient civilization, just as the flying saucer symbolizes an unknown higher civilization beyond our earth. A mysterious flying saucer relativizes the fuss on earth and the seemingly unlimited power of religion and politics’ (K. Haring, quoted in interview with P. D. Duyvis, in Museumjournaal, 1982, Vol. 3). In the present work, these symbols are pitted against allusions to modern computer technology, inviting us to contemplate our position between the ‘ancient’ and ‘higher’ civilizations to which they allude. Haring embellishes this dichotomy with a number of esoteric references. His fascination with Mayan and Aztec cultures is evinced both through the image of people worshipping at the base of the pyramid, as well as the all-over, seemingly codified linguistic patterning of his motifs. Allusions to Western art history pepper the scene: the writhing ball of snakes to the right of the computer evokes the Medusa of Greek legend, whilst the composition as a whole brings to mind Old Master visions of man’s destruction by beasts and higher powers: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), or Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son (circa 1819-23). The spaceships conjure the spectre of sci-fi: a genre that reached new heights during the 1970s and 1980s with movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Bladerunner (1982), ET (1982) and the Star Trek series. The computer, too, recalls the various models of home computer that came to the market during the 1980s – notably the IBM PC in 1981, and the Apple Macintosh in 1984. In the confluence of these diverse sources, a euphoric vision is born: one that looks across the ages, whilst remaining firmly rooted in contemporary reality.
After moving to New York in 1978, where he enrolled at the School of Visual Arts, Haring came to prominence through his inclusion in the 1980 Times Square Show, organised by the revolutionary artistic collective Colab. Like many of his generation – including his contemporary Jean-Michel Basquiat – he eschewed traditional gallery representation in his early years, taking instead the streets of New York as his exhibition space. His early chalk drawings, pasted over peeling advertisements on the subway, instantly captured the public’s imagination. Haring’s joyful, faceless figures and pseudo-mythological beasts became icons of their time: harbingers of a utopian, psychedelic reality. For Haring, schooled in the rigours of post-structuralism, these characters were conceived in semiotic terms: parts of a larger linguistic whole, which could be dissembled, disassociated and rearranged according to the artist’s poetic logic. In 1984, the year of the present work, he began important friendships with novelist William Burroughs and artist Brion Gysin, whose celebrated ‘cut-up’ techniques had an important influence on his work. Visually, however, Haring’s motifs are profoundly anti-conceptual. Their animated forms channel the influence of hip-hop and breakdance, imbibed during long nights at Club 57 and the Mudd Club. Their bold statures evoke the language of Pop Art, whilst their repeated, proliferating arrangements pay tribute to the all-over structures of Jackson Pollock. Haring spoke of his desire to ‘incorporate [art] into every part of life .... Taking it off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people, I guess’ (K. Haring, quoted in D. Drenger, ‘Art and Life: An Interview with Keith Haring,’ in Columbia Art Review, Spring 1988, p. 53).
Having abandoned school for the streets, Haring learnt his trade in the public eye. The immediate, ephemeral nature of his work during these early years gave rise to a bold, intuitive linear style that reaches a climax in the present work. Haring himself described the process as an almost subconscious act – he had long admired the instinctive, semi-automatic approach to line cultivated by artists such as Mark Tobey, Pierre Alechinsky and Jean Dubuffet, and identified clear parallels with graffiti. ‘See, when I paint, it is an experience that, at its best, is transcending reality’, he explained (K. Haring, quoted in D. Sheff, ‘Keith Haring: An Intimate Conversation,’ in Rolling Stone, August 1989). For Haring, this mode of art-making offered a means of escaping everyday banalities: of living life in the moment, and embracing all its colours and sensations. It was an exhilarating period for the artist – the spectre of AIDS had not yet cast its shadow upon his practice, and he took his place at the centre of New York’s thriving underground scene, cultivating a wide social circle that included Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Vivienne Westwood and Yoko Ono. 1984 saw the launch of his first legendary ‘Party of Life’ at Paradise Garage in SoHo, attended by the biggest names in art, music and fashion – Madonna gave an early performance of Like a Virgin, dressed in a suit designed by Haring. Infused with frenetic urban energy, as if powered by the computer itself, the present work captures something of this creative dynamism: a dizzying celebration of contemporary life, synthesising past, present and future.
Works from the Collection of Paul Maenz: ‘Art is to change what you expect from it’
Christie’s is delighted to present three works from the personal collection of Paul Maenz. One of the most influential gallerists of his generation, Maenz had a pivotal impact on the international art world during the 1970s and 1980s, introducing new waves of Avant-garde artists to both European and American audiences. His gallery in Cologne was instrumental in establishing the city as a new centre of cultural innovation, operating during a time of rapid change within the art world. Working closely with artists, curators and critics, Maenz gave voice to some of the most pioneering movements of the time: most notably Conceptualism, Arte Povera, Italian Transavanguardia and Neo-Expressionism. Driven by a deep belief in art as a force for cultural enrichment and progress, his gallery offered a new model for engaging with its contemporary forms at the dawn of the postmodern era. The artists represented here – Keith Haring, Anselm Kiefer and Albert Oehlen – offer a snapshot of this world during the mid-1980s, capturing the spirit of political subversion, painterly radicalism and restless creative optimism that captivated Maenz during this period. They are an apt reflection of a gallerist, collector and connoisseur who believed – after Seth Siegelaub – that ‘Art is to change what you expect from it’.
Maenz was born in 1939 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. In 1958, following brief apprenticeships in both a department store and a printing company, he enrolled at the Folkwangschule für Gestaltung, Essen. The legacy of the Bauhaus movement was still very much present within the school’s ethos, and Maenz studied graphic design with Max Burchartz. During this period, the visionary Musiktheater im Revier opened opposite his parents’ house in Gelsenkirchen. Its commission programme, featuring works by Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein and others, exposed Maenz to exciting new art forms: ‘both the artists and a thousand blue sponges were at my doorstep’, he recalls (P. Maenz, interviewed in “Art is to change…”: Property from the Collection of Paul Maenz, Berlin, Christie’s New York, 2015, p. 9). Upon graduation, Maenz took a job as Assistant Art Director at the Frankfurt branch of the American advertising agency Young & Rubicam, subsequently transferring to their New York office in 1965. There, he saw the legendary exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum: a showcase of Minimalism that would have an important impact upon his early artistic tastes. He also founded the ‘Kineticism Press’ with the artist Willoughby Sharp: an art publishing initiative that foreshadowed his later commitment to catalogue production. It was during this period that Maenz bought his first artwork – a piece by Sol LeWitt, purchased directly from the studio. ‘Given that I only owned $200’, he explains, ‘the price of $100 seemed rather adventurous’ (P. Maenz, ibid.).
In 1967, Maenz returned to Germany, where he organised his first exhibition: a highly influential show entitled Serial Formations. Curated in collaboration with his friend Peter Roehr, it opened in May at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, showing artists such as Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Agnes Martin. Many of these artists had never been shown in Germany before: a coup that set the tone for Maenz’s ensuring career. He also organised the historic group exhibition 19:45 – 21:55 at Dorothea Loehr’s Frankfurt gallery, which lasted just two hours and included a number of ephemeral art installations. One of the participants was Konrad Lueg, who – under the name Konrad Fischer – would open his pioneering Dusseldorf gallery the following year. Shortly afterwards, along with Roehr, Maenz opened a 60-meter square shop called ‘Pudding Explosion’: a ‘psychodelicatessen’ selling an irreverent range of spiritually- and politically-charged items, ranging from incense sticks to Chinese newspapers. It was the first of its kind in Germany, and closed – despite profitability – as soon as it ceased to be ‘an alternative to the status quo’ (P. Maenz, quoted at http://archives2.getty. edu:8082/xtf/view?docId=ead/910066/910066.xml;chunk. id=ref13;brand=default [accessed 9 August 2018]).
By 1970, the idea of working with artists was beginning to seem more appealing. Cologne had recently launched its art fair – an invention which, according to Maenz, turned the world ‘completely upside down’. It was, for him, a cultural turning point: ‘a hermetic circle was broken’, he explains. ‘Access to modern art suddenly ceased to be determined by class, age, education, or wealth’ (P. Maenz, quoted in G. de Vries (ed.), Paul Maenz: Köln 1970-1980- 1990: An Avant-Garde Gallery and the Art of our Time, Cologne 1991, p. 242). Over the years, he recalls, Cologne would become ‘kind of a bridge between America and Europe – it was much more contemporary and much more alive than Paris or London … There came a point where if you hadn’t made it to Cologne you hadn’t truly made it as an artist’ (P. Maenz, 2018). Maenz took up residence in the city and, with his friend Gerd de Vries, set about establishing a gallery. Together, they began to contact artists who had rarely been shown in Germany, and launched their first exhibition – a show of Hans Haacke’s work – in January 1971. The gallery’s location, a backyard at Lindenstraße 32, was decidedly modest: ‘cold water, no cleaning lady, and lots of “inferior duties”’, recalls Maenz. ‘Today people might think of it as a sacrifice, but in fact we felt this condition contributed to a style. It wasn’t only that the spare and monkish existence had something purifying, or cleansing about it; around 1970, a whole new kind of gallery emerged all over Europe, a kind that had never been seen before. And the tension between the modesty of their appearances and their ambitions (which were anything but modest) was the actual climate of this new form of gallery. It was the end of post-war Bohemia. Paris was no longer an example to follow’ (P. Maenz, ibid., 1991, p. 236).
For the next six years, Maenz continued to show primarily Arte Povera and Conceptual art, nurturing the careers of artists such as Giulio Paolini, Giovanni Anselmo, Salvo, Giuseppe Penone, Joseph Kosuth, Robert Barry, Art & Language, David Askevold, Daniel Buren and Victor Burgin. Siegelaub’s mantra – ‘Art is to change what you expect from it’ – became the official gallery motto. Fischer was the only other gallerist in Germany showing similar artists, and Maenz enjoyed a great deal of success, initially opening a second gallery in Brussels before moving his Cologne gallery to various new locations, each bigger and better than the last. ‘Our first exhibition space had two columns’, he recalls; ‘the next gallery had four; and finally it was a tall, splendid hall with eight tall, splendid columns’ (P. Maenz, ibid.). Maenz was a firm believer that a good gallerist should work in true collaboration with the artist, using the aesthetic philosophy of their work to guide its display and presentation. ‘We functioned as participants, not as a public’, he explains. ‘Together with the artists, jointly, we created the space in which their ideas would materialize for the first time … everything happened through the artists’ inspirations, flowing through their channels’ (P. Maenz, ibid., p. 238). A gallery owner, he believed, should have ‘some talent as a “translator” – that is, this ability to smell out the “argument”, so to speak, in the artist’s idea, and then to translate it into a form of presentation that makes it plausible’ (P. Maenz, ibid., p. 240).
By the mid-1970s, Maenz began to move away from primarily showing Conceptualism and embrace new artistic movements that were emerging internationally. One of these was the Italian Transavanguardia – an interest that gradually consumed the gallery’s operations, giving rise to the ‘Italian Year’ of 1978. During this period, Maenz exhibited works by artists such as Francesco Clemente, Giuseppe Penone, Luciano Fabro and Giulio Paolini. As the decade drew to a close, however, new voices were beginning to resound within his native Germany, sparking a fascination with what would loosely become known as ‘Neo-Expressionism’. In the shadow of Joseph Beuys, a younger generation was seeking new directions for art-making, liberated by the onset of attitudes that would later be termed ‘postmodern’. ‘I think that the late 1970s were actually the end of an era, with the so-called progressive modernity and their successive “isms”’, explains Maenz. ‘By 1980, it was clear: we had culturally landed in postmodern era. Young artists were no longer “against” something; rather they were simply “somewhere else”’ (P. Maenz, ibid., 2015, p. 7). In November 1980, Maenz mounted a pivotal group exhibition entitled Mülheimer Freiheit & Interessante Bilder aus Deutschland, which introduced artists such as Albert Oehlen, Werner Büttner and Georg Herold to the public. ‘Albert was intelligent, was bright, was critical and a very interesting person’, recalls Maenz. ‘I was fortunate to be able to buy a couple of paintings and have him in two group shows quite prominently’ (P. Maenz, 2018).
Whilst Oehlen and his contemporaries sought to free painting from its historic shackles, Anselm Kiefer used it as a means of addressing Germany’s recent past. Kiefer would show many times with Maenz over the following decade, and the two developed a successful working relationship. ‘Kiefer was a very precise artist, very critical, very strategic’, recalls Maenz. ‘... To work with him was absolutely fascinating. For me this was new territory because he would approach subjects that were not at home in German art – the German-Jewish drama of the twentieth century. To find a language to deal with that was not easy for him but not easy for anyone else, and that was exactly what fascinated me. For us painting was taboo, content was taboo and being very German was also taboo – and Kiefer was all this, 150%. And that was the challenge – once we worked our way into Kiefer’s concept and got to know him better as a person, we ended up representing him until the very last day of the gallery – he had the final show in 1990. It was a very good relationship and a very successful one’ (P. Maenz, 2018).
Despite his focus on German Neo-Expressionism during the 1980s, Maenz also looked to its transatlantic counterpart. In 1984 he hosted Keith Haring’s first solo exhibition in Germany. By this stage, he had moved into an impressive new gallery space at Bismarckstraße 50: a former factory whose interior had been renovated by the architect Thiess Marwede. For the exhibition opening, Maenz created a kind of performance space that reflected the artist’s theatrical impulses: Haring drew his snaking graphic patterns over the walls of the gallery, as well as onto the body of a semi-naked man, who circulated the exhibition and posed in front of the paintings. ‘I had never seen anything like that’, recalls Maenz.’He would start on a huge wall in one corner, and ended with an all-over wall painting without any preliminary drawing, without correcting anything, and it was like the “pattern” had fallen from heaven ... To me Keith’s work is magic … We were very happy to celebrate his 25th birthday – that was the opening night. So we rented a gay discotheque – much to the surprise of many Cologne art lovers who had never been to such a place, and they loved it. We had belly dancers, we had a big birthday cake ... people were queuing outside and it went until the next morning. It was fantastic. It is one of the magic things about Keith’s art – it makes people shine. There is something liberating about his art – at the same time you feel this man is extremely serious’ (P. Maenz, 2018).
Maenz’s contributions to the Cologne art scene were not limited to the art that he exhibited. He cultivated a wide network of clients, nurturing and advising collectors as well as forging relationships with museum directors and curators – notably Jean-Christophe Ammann, Zdenek Felix and Rudi Fuchs. In preparation for exhibitions, he frequently exchanged works with other gallerists – including Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend and Marian Goodman – thus establishing important international dialogues between the European and American art scenes. He also formed friendships with critics such as Germano Celant and Wolfgang Max Faust, both of whom contributed to his gallery publications. Every January the gallery published a Yearbook, documenting all exhibitions of the previous year. Maenz also participated heavily in art fairs and forums, variously exhibiting his artists at Art Basel, Art Cologne and Documenta. After making the decision to close his gallery in 1990, he continued to cultivate links with the wider art world, most notably donating his private collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings to the Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar for its opening in 1998. The works that remained in his personal collection represented, he claimed, ‘my own biography- aesthetic “headwaters”’ (P. Maenz, ibid., 2015, p. 13).
Throughout his career, Maenz repeatedly challenged the idea of a gallery as a self-fulfilling entity: its sole purpose, he believed, should be to serve art in the purest, most engaged form possible. ‘If a gallery identifies its purpose as following the course of art, it will neither adhere to any artistic “styles”, nor will it ever stand still’, explains Maenz. ‘Its nature is related to the nature of art itself, and that means change’ (P. Maenz, ibid., 1991, p. 238). As categories of image-making exploded throughout the 1970s and 1980s, responding to waves of social and political change within the wider world, the idea of the gallery as a restless critical platform became more vital than ever for art’s continued evolution. ‘Art is subversive by nature’, said Maenz. ‘“Subversive” here doesn’t mean a call for political rebellion; but rather art as the visible proof, so to speak, of an independent spiritual world beyond the practical one … Art holds open the idea of an alternative to everything that exists. Art keeps the power of imagination alive. And that’s why we need it’ (P. Maenz, ibid., p. 240).