Thomas Bayrle

MAK, Vienna, Austria

When it was founded in 1864, Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) was called the Museum of Art and Industry. So it remained until 1938, when, following Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany, it became the State Arts and Crafts Museum, a name that was then dropped in 1947 in favour of MAK, a better reflection of the institution’s collections of industrial and graphic design, furniture, tapestries and decorative arts. Today, it owns the archive of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) design community, has a permanent display of fin-de-siècle industrial and graphic design and, in 2015, became the first museum to purchase an artwork with bitcoin.

web_1493775025849-1.jpg

Thomas Bayrle, $, 1980, cardboard, miniature cars. Courtesy: Private collection; photograph: © Wolfgang Günzel 

Thomas Bayrle, $, 1980, cardboard, miniature cars. Courtesy: Private collection; photograph: © Wolfgang Günzel 

How to explore a 19th century museum and its collection from a contemporary standpoint? This was the question that MAK posed to Thomas Bayrle, an artist whose work reflects on industrial production and represents contemporary tools. His response, the solo exhibition ‘If It’s Too Long – Make It Longer’, comprises a selection of works old and new, all of which relate to the museum’s collection and history in different ways. It includes his ‘superforms’ works, in which pictures are compiled from multiple small images, like pictograms. A sculpture of a cup, an early example of standardized plastic production, is made from an assortment of cups (Cup of Cups, 1969), while a series of portraits (such as Christel from the Post Office, 1970, depicting the artist’s mother) are composed of bank deposit slips, eyeglass subscriptions and graphics of rotary phones. Sculptures and paintings in relief depict cars and highways, like $ (Dollar) (1980), a dollar sign-shaped overpass assembled from cardboard and miniature cars.

Much of Bayrle’s work relates to economy and commerce (it’s roads, banks, industrial design and fashion) and, having been born in Germany in 1937, his understanding of such thematics is closely related to the Wirtschaftswunder: the ‘economic miracle’ that West Germany and Austria experienced after World War II. While the lasting effects of this period of low inflation and rapid industrial growth remain visible in certain areas of Germany (and across the EU), manufacturing is currently undergoing immense change in contemporary society, where the product sold is consciously and consistently separated from its process of production. A number of Bayrle’s new works depict a commodity that has become emblematic of the above process: the iPhone. For the vast iPhone Meets Japan (2017), laid flat on the floor of MAK’s columned main hall, he uses small images of iPhones to reconstruct a work from the institution’s collection collection: a study for an erotic painting from c.1720 by Nishikawa Sukenobu. There is also iPhone Pietà (2017), a tapestry that was handmade by traditional weavers in the south of France and uses the same repeating image to reproduce Michelangelo’s famous Pietà (c.1499), which sits in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

web_1508722523071.jpg

Thomas Bayrle, iPhone meets Japan, 2017, installation view, MAK Columned Main Hall, MAK, Vienna, Austria. Courtesy: MAK; photograph:© MAK/Georg Mayer

Thomas Bayrle, iPhone meets Japan, 2017, installation view, MAK Columned Main Hall, Vienna, Austria. Courtesy: MAK; photograph:© MAK/Georg Mayer

In 2016, Apple sold the billionth iPhone. It’s a product that, in its ten years of existence, has grown to symbolize a cultural and societal shift in the way we communicate and consume information. It’s also a symbol of the human rights violations involved in its production. Though Bayrle’s works do not reference these conditions directly, they bring them into the context of his broad interest in the systems of global economy, while also presenting them to the institution, itself a space for critical debate on the history, effect and impact of industry. Bayrle’s practice moves across imagery, from modernism back to religious iconography, through decorative arts and up to technology. As these come together in his work, he reflects on lasting images and the conditions of their production: the very same thing that the museum aims to do.

Main image: Thomas Bayrle, Börsenbericht, (Stock Exchange Report, detail), 1972/73, portfolio of six silk screens on paper, 64 x 51 cm each. Courtesy: the artist

Orit Gat is a writer based in London and New York whose work on contemporary art and digital culture has been published in a variety of magazines. 

Issue 193

First published in Issue 193

March 2018

Most Read

Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018