Jonathan Meese’s Irreverent Canvases Reimagine Sports
From Greek and Roman sculptures of discus throwers to Thomas Eakins’ paintings of wrestlers, artists have long been fascinated by the physiques of athletes. For his latest show at Galerie Krinzinger, “DR. NO SPORTARZAHN (EVOLUTIONSSCHRITT DE FIT),” German artist Jonathan Meese updates such iconic imagery, warping the world of sports through his irreverent attitude and unique style of painting.
It’s difficult to separate Meese’s paintings from his own oversized personality. He is energetic, the sort of artist who speaks in broad, bold aphorisms about art and life: “Art is the best ruling power. The dictatorship of art is ideal, and that’s why art has to come into power,” Meese has said. If Meese’s statements come across as intensely serious, his philosophy of artmaking is less so. He sees art as akin to play, saying that, “even humans are toys for art, and we must play with all the material we can find.” His own practice is rapid and chaotic, and he paints by jumping from canvas to canvas, sometimes using the paint tube itself as a brush.
The resulting paintings, a recent cohort of which are on view at Krinzinger, are at once humorous and cryptic, combining figures, symbols, and written phrases in arresting neon colors. Apropos to his notion of art as play, his paintings evoke the aesthetic and imagination of children’s drawings. In HALLO, SCHNIED' SCHNIEDELLION IS BACK, WIE PIGGY PIGGDIRN... (2015), a woman clutching a pink dumbbell emerges from a chaos of paint spills, her arm cartoonishly bent in a U-shape. The words “Fraulein ‘WHAMeese’” appear over the figure, hinting that the piece may actually be a gender-bending self-portrait. MEIN "UFODISSKUS" SCHIMMERT NACH GNJURMBRANS DE ITISM… (2015), meanwhile, shows an individual engaged in discus, his legs trailing off into tentacles. Instead of the muscled, powerful athlete, Meese depicts bodies that bend and twist as if they were made from elastic.
Rounding out the show are two additional series—one of aluminum sculptures and the other of drawings. The sculptures conjure Olympic sporting events (discus, hurdle jumping), however unlike their human counterparts, Meese’s athletes tilt, sag, and threaten to fall apart at any moment. His drawings, on the other hand, depict monstrous ballerinas—a subject that, while outside of “sports” in the Olympic sense, also embodies rigorous physical discipline. Taken together, the works on view might be seen as an attack on our society’s obsession with professional athletes and the seriousness with which we regard sports. Meese’s paintings envision athletics as playful and absurd, reminding us that sports may be nothing more than dressed-up children’s games.
“DR. NO SPORTARZAHN (EVOLUTIONSSCHRITT DE FIT),” is on view at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, Nov. 13, 2015–Jan. 30, 2016.