The Serious Attitude of Thomas Bayrle’s Building Blocks

High Line Art
Nov 7, 2012 9:21PM

The brilliant blue tableau of Thomas Bayrle’s American Dream glistens in the sun, commanding attention from the populated park above and the busy roadway below. This stunning billboard of a classic Chrysler Sedan has found a home amongst the buzzing atmosphere of Chelsea. As the sixth installment of  HIGH LINE BILLBOARD, Bayrle’s captivating image, originally conceived in 1970, forges a connection with the present by highlighting society’s enduring obsession with car culture.

Bayrle manipulates Chrysler’s iconic star logo to construct his image. Generated from hundreds of these warped stars the billboard magically transforms depending upon distance imbuing the stagnant car with a sense of movement. Combining small images to create a unified whole is a technique that has informed Bayrle’s practice for five decades. Referring to these creations as ‘super-forms,’ the artist initiates a dialogue between individual forms and mass.

This obsessive technique is a visual signifier of Bayrle’s interest in the defining characteristic of capitalism – mass production. Exploiting the uniformity that arises from mass production, he underscores both the attraction and the horror of contemporary consumerism. In the late 1950s Bayrle spent time working in a textile factory, a demanding job that endowed him with a thorough understanding of the machinations of modernism. The repetitious nature of factory work has informed Bayrle’s artistic practice, which is built upon the convergence of components to make a collective whole.

His manipulation of small, singular images presents an infinite repository of building blocks that allow Bayrle to depict everything from mundane daily objects to contested political figures. Visualizing the power of masses, he illustrates the world’s dependency upon interconnected entities. This looped existence is presented as neither a critique nor a glorification, but merely the reality of a globalized society. Bayrle views the world through this factory aesthetic seeing all objects as a unified entity that can be broken into singular components.

In Bayrle’s eyes, society is a perpetual creation machine dependent upon the interaction and movement of individuals. Motorway imagery appears throughout his work to symbolize this never-ending conveyor belt that unites the ultimate super-form, humanity. Cars and highways also serve as a visual illustration of the relationship between capitalism and society.

The grand scale and location of American Dream brings these issues into a contemporary context by reflecting on the role of advertising in an over saturated society. Even though Bayrle conceived this image four decades ago, the mockingly bright palette and obsessive brand repetition allude to the current global economic crisis, which has produced a heightened dependency on marketing. As car companies plummeted into debt and oil prices continue to sky rocket, American Dream proclaims the longevity of an industry in jeopardy.

A pioneer of Pop and Conceptual Art in West Germany during the 60s and 70s garnered Bayrle local acclaim while his three decades teaching at the progressive Frankfurt school Städelschule earned him respect from budding artists. He has resurfaced on the international contemporary art scene with a 2009 retrospective in Barcelona, a contribution to the 2009 Venice Biennale, a large-scale installation at Documenta 2012, and was a participant in this year’s Frieze Projects, London.

With his billboard coming down next week and his gallery show closing at Gavin Brown Enterprises on October 27th don’t miss this opportunity to see Bayrle’s aesthetically compelling comment on contemporary society. 

 - High Line Art 

American Dream, 1970/2012. Photo by Austin Kennedy

High Line Art