If we are to trail Martin Wenzel’s gaze in his new works presented for the exhibition SCHACHTEL MARLBORO, on view at Philipp Pflug Contemporary from January 14 through to February 25, 2017, we see the streets of Frankfurt lined by sculptures. The road signs, sign bases and drain grates, some of which have been worked on or colored, form an interplay of industrially produced goods and sculptural composition. Reduced to the formal language of traffic signs and base plates, the monochrome sculptures refer to modular, functional design – and in doing so sensitize us, the viewers, to an urban, every day and often overlooked aesthetic.
This aesthetic can also be described as an awareness of the absurd, seeing as the show is named after a sculpture consisting of a road sign base and bracket, onto which an empty packet of Marlboro cigarettes, or in informal German: ‘eine SCHACHTEL MARLBORO’ has been placed. A broken-off piece of masonry with a metal pillar screwed onto it or a sign made by builders themselves provide starting points to Wenzel’s works. These finds, spotted by the artist on the way to his studio in Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel district, inspired him to create this new body of work, whereby the artist here acts as a composer rather than an object-maker. His choice of materials for these works ranges from objets trouvés, found objects, and newly acquired signs and bases. The interest in the individual form-giving modules of these signs or manhole covers has in this case superseded the precise work with the material, which in Martin Wenzel’s work tends to be wood. Yet the artist’s characteristic touch is not entirely obliterated – some of the sculptures have been modified by adding a kink in the beam or a slight bend to the aluminum signs, setting them apart from factory assembled ready-mades and emphasizing their materiality, which is nowhere near as grey and rigid as we tend to perceive it in our everyday. In the second part of the exhibition, on view in the gallery’s upper floor, Martin Wenzel shows various drain grates. Their inherent sculptural qualities are highlighted with monochrome varnish or the application of pigmented paraffin wax. In contrast to the way we usually perceive these objects – namely, as openings or negative space – here, the focus lies on the material’s volume and solidity, as well as the object’s shape and manufacturing process.
The choice of color for the works on show is also based on modular logic. The colored dots providing the color matching for cyan C, magenta M, yellow Y, black K and the grey tones can also be found on print products including cigarette packets, pointing to the fact that all of the visible hues employed in industrial production can be broken down into these primary shades. These are of course, different to the elementary colors the human eye perceives: which are blue, green and red. In Martin Wenzel’s work we then find a turn away from the principles and habits of seeing intrinsic to the wandering human eye on a metaphorical level, which is addressed by the structural foundations of our experience and in doing so goes beyond merely registering purely singular experiences.
Martin Wenzel will continue to explore similar such design aspects. With a travel grant from Hessische Kulturstiftung the artist plans to study the construction of coffins in Ghana, which employs the most diverse of shapes and symbols from everyday life – for example that of a packet of Marlboro cigarettes. In this, the particularities and the short life span of such coffins with figurative designs will be of special interest to him, as will be the complex local funeral rites.