MARTIN DISLER (1949-1996)
MARTIN DISLER (1949-1996)
MARTIN DISLER (1949-1996)
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MARTIN DISLER (1949-1996)
4 More
The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
MARTIN DISLER (1949-1996)

Preparing for Tonight

Details
MARTIN DISLER (1949-1996)
Preparing for Tonight
signed and dated 'disler 82' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
77 x 113 in. (196 x 287 cm.)
Painted in 1982.
Provenance
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich, 1982
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
New York, Marlborough Gallery, The Pressure to Paint, p. 8, no. 13.
Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Von Twombly bis Clemente. Ausgewählte Werke einer Privatsammlung, July-September 1985, no. 56 (illustrated).

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Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Specialist

Lot Essay

Martin Disler’s Preparing for Tonight, 1982, is a testament to the artist’s expressive use of color, form, volume, and myth to expand the boundaries of painting. Disler was a key member of Junge Wilde, translated to “young wild ones,” a loosely knit group of artists in the German-speaking world who used bright, bold colors in a form of Neo-Expressionism. Sharing similar aims as the Transavanguardia movement in Italy, to which Enzo Cucchi and Sandro Chia were central, Junge Wild was a revolutionary effort in the 1980s to reexamine painting that also included Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. The sole Switzerland-based artist associated with Junge Wild, Disler was a revolutionary who never fitted into established narratives. After being expelled from school in 1968, Disler, who was born to a family of gardeners, turned to art and became a self-taught icon of painting. From the 1970s onward, he built an unparalleled career that challenges how we think about the body. His work was exhibited in the historic Documenta 7 and is also included in the permeant collection of the Tate in London. Preparing for Tonight is an essential canvas not only for understanding Didier’s innovative career, but the history of painting altogether.

A large, striking canvas at nearly nine-and-a-half feet by six-and-a-half feet, Preparing for Tonight is a vibrant and mysterious painting that stands apart in Disler’s oeuvre. We await some kind of meeting. First, there is the meeting of hues: whites, blacks, and light blues coalesce around the edge of the canvas, creating a landscape of sorts with gentle, rolling slopes. From these pale forms emerges a red force that expands into a different entity entirely, a series of two or more mask-like bodies that float unmoored and dreamlike. The left-hand mask, composed mostly of red, seems to breeze through the middle of the scene like smoke. It is a face that is in the process of materialization, as one sees with the melting and foggy objects and bodies of Man Ray or the earthy, abstract forms of Jean Dubuffet. On the right is a black mask with a tongue outstretched, its eye facing us and beckoning us into the scene. The masks are in a state of combat, or perhaps locked in an embrace, one state of being split into two. It makes sense that masks were important for Surrealism, Dada, and Art Brut, important precursors to Disler and the Junge Wild. For the artists of the early twentieth-century avant-gardes, masks were sites to explore identity, truth, and the uncanny. Disler accomplishes the same with Preparing for Tonight, which becomes a vibrating study in symbolism and emotion.

Doris von Draetln in Artforum observes of Disler’s work, “In a kind of dance ritual, Disler raged across huge unrolled streams of paper or canvas, hurtling figures onto the white surface with all his might, so that his entire body followed the movement of the brush, every stroke, every line surging forth from his painterly rhythms. He created sequences of red pictures and black pictures, all of which took possession of space like tidal waves” (D. von Draetln, “Martin Disler,” Artforum, January 1989, p. 180). Nowhere could this be truer than in Preparing for Tonight, which is filled with balletic motion, as if the masks are frenzied dancers in the night, emerging from their slumber in response to the rhythm. In his dynamic relationship to the canvas, Dinsler could be compared to the Abstract Expressionists, for whom the body’s movements were as important as paint. Preparing for Tonight is especially reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s early work, in which allegorical figures weave in and out of the scene like ghosts in a play of opposites or sides of the same self. Dinsler creates a mythology from his own body and amasses a personal and collective history with paint.

Critic Max Wechsler concurs, “Faces are superimposed on each other to become masks or grimaces, as if the whole play of features from delight to cold terror were combined in one. Similarly, the tender hand is also the threatening fist or the rapacious claw. A vortex of the most contradictory feelings sucks at us here” (M. Wechsler, “Martin Disler,” Artforum, May 1985, p. 176). It is in the navigation of these extremes that Disler’s work finds its impact, somewhere between abstraction and figuration, pleasure and foreboding, the human and the uncanny. Preparing for Tonight is exemplary of the affective range we find in Disler’s paintings, and it illustrates that just as a artwork contains not just one way of being, but multiple, so too does each viewer. Disler encourages us bring our own selves, our own masks, to the canvas.

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