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Thomas Bayrle: Playtime by Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Helga Christoffersen, US $79.95, Pp 248, June 2018, ISBN 978-0714876351

Thomas Bayrle was one of the leading German sculptors and printmakers who came on the art scene during the economic boom in the 1960s. He was a pioneer in creating analog visualizations by using tools such as photocopiers and other mid-century tools in his early works — and later computers. He was born in Berlin in November 1937. His father was also a painter, sculptor, and printmaker. His first major solo exhibition in New York, Playtime, brings his works from the last fifty years and highlights his experiments across media and their relationship between consumerism, technology, and propaganda. The exhibition showcases more than 115 works including paintings, sculptures, drawings, wallpapers and prints, early computer-based art, videos and 16mm films. Through his works, Bayrle looks at the proliferation and uniformity of the global megacity and its infrastructure networks. He was one of the first artists who used digital technology and computers to expand his working methods.

In Thomas Bayrle, Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari bring together his works for those who are not able to visit the exhibition or who want to learn more about Bayrle life and works. The monograph includes Thomas Bayrle’s long interview with Massimiliano Gioni and long articles on Bayrle life and works. In his long interview with Massimiliano Gioni, Bayrle explains how his city landscape works developed. Bayrle says that it was a structural transformation of his work. He says, “I wanted to create a series of ‘average cities.’ Technically, I decided to create these works with a set of modules and collages, by endlessly varying the same motifs. I wanted to work with modular constructions and bring these into a new system, a bit like minimal music: my intention was to create about ten or fifteen modules which would be woven together, creating a potentially infinite set of procedures. I started with a number of isometric photographed toys, which were combined almost as in a puzzle. With a few elements and a series of endless variations, I could create immense cities.”

In the interview, Bayrle also says that he wanted his artworks to evolve and grow like cities and companies do within the capitalist system. Companies work with their financial tools and real estate conglomerates have their own systems. But Bayrle wanted to create his own tools. For him, his city landscapes had a lot to do with the way finances turn an abstraction into physical spaces, how capitalism acts behind cities, how numbers become things. The cities paintings were also a form of coding which is why they look like ancient video-game landscapes today. For Bayrle, they were also about music and modulation, so in a sense, they were very close to the texture of the fabric he had learned about as a weaver when he was weaving streets.

In her article ‘Mass and Ornament,’ Christine Mehring calls Bayrle’s art a turntable practice. She says that Bayrle’s engagement with communist motifs was pervasive. Explaining the context of Bayrle’s art, she says that West Germany had its share of 1960s upheavals in search of social and political changes. Bayrle’s turntable art created room for reflection, however, as Pop motifs from the economic miracle joined other icons, drawn from communism, which  first appeared in the form of Mao Zedong in Bayrle’s 1965 painting ‘Mao und die Gymnasiasten’ (Mao and the Schoolboys] — a work made before Polke, Richter, or Warhol ever touched the subject. At the time, Chairman Mao’s writings were steadily growing in popularity in the student movement. Bayrle confirmed this when he said, “We found Russian Communism utterly boring, with its uncreative apparatchikness, while Mao’s Communism seemed to have much more power and color, and had let ‘100 flowers bloom.’”

Thomas Bayrle is a much-needed addition to the existing literature on the life and works of Thomas Bayrle in the English language. It is packed with knowledge about Bayrle’s life and in-depth analysis of his works. The authors give new perspectives on his work. As Edlis Neeson Artistic Director at the New Museum and Kraus Family Curator at the New Museum respectively, Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari have the right credentials to write about an artist who still needs to be studied. It is a pleasure to hold this beautifully-manufactured book which must be on your coffee table.

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