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.


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.


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. 

Most Read

The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK
Openings at the new ICA, The Bass and PAMM played out against a backdrop of geographic uncanniness and atmospheric...
With the recent razing of suburban slums, tightening censorship and the sad passing of Geng Jianyi, a year of...
Nicholas Mangan, Ancient Lights (detail), 2015, two-screen installation, solar panels, batteries, projectors powered by solar energy, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland and Labor, Mexico
At once stagnant and dynamic, politically tense and blissfully buoyant, the French capital was a strange place to be...
From victims of Hurricane Harvey to the music of Roger Waters, 2017 has been full of renewed debate around support for...
In further news: MOCA Detroit suspends Jens Hoffmann after harassment allegations; Met refuses to remove ‘suggestive’...
‘Conflicts of interest’ may have cost Beatrix Ruf her Stedelijk job but the problem doesn’t just lie with individuals...
Her work animates the consequences of our colonial history and the construction of identity politics: in a divided...
France's President Emmanuel Macron meets Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore at the Presidential Palace in Burkina Faso on November 28, 2017. Courtesy: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
The French President’s recent comments hint at a dubious politics: using art restitution as a stopgap to France’s...
More from today’s Briefing: protesting Raghubir Singh; documenta artists defend exhibition (again); Enrico Castellani (...
Tiffany and Co., Sterling Silver Paper Cup, 2017, from the ‘Everyday Objects’ collection. Courtesy: Tiffany and Co., New York
Tiffany & Co.’s new range of gift objects and the shifting meaning of the ‘everyday’
From Hannah Black to Not Surprised, the changes demanded by today’s letter writers are still a long way from being...
Johan Grimonprez, Shadow World, 2016, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris, Flatland Gallery, Amsterdam, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Louverture Films, Dillywood and Shadow World inc., New York
Johan Grimonprez’s recent films explore the mechanisms of the arms trade
A pivot to glass by the sculptor shows an attempt to see hope through political disillusionment
In further news: initiative for museum staff diversity; Gwangju Biennale's 2018 curators; Jens Hoffmann clarifies Front...
Ahead of Manifesta’s opening in Palermo next summer, the importance of remembering an alternative Mediterranean...
Inverting the gaze: real life biography, game play fantasy and Frantz Fanon combine in the British artist’s films
Old Food, 2017, production still. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York and Rome, and dépendance, Brussels
Helen Marten responds to Ed Atkins’s new work, Old Food, currently showing at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
Elsewhere: activists protest AfD with Holocaust Memorial replica; censorship at Kuala Lumpur Biennale; Venice Biennale'...
Twenty years after the First Cyberfeminist International at Documenta X, what does Cyberfeminism look like in...
Thinking about propaganda, palimpsests, and a presentation of Tino Sehgal works in Moscow
As London's Architectural Association celebrates 100 years of female students, rediscovering the city designed by women
Lin May Saeed, Lobster, 2017. Metal, 11 x 24 x 14.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Nicolas Krupp, Basel, Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main and Lulu, Mexico City
Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico
For the 6th Amsterdam Art Weekend, our picks of the best shows and events across the Dutch capital
Highlights of the shows included in the third iteration of Dublin Gallery Weekend
An interview with Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, on new ways for art institutions to work
With her current show at Studio_Leigh, London, the artist shares some important images
Recent instances of censorship show an emboldened far right attacking the arts, queer identity and more: artists,...
The staggering price reached by Salvator Mundi prompts the question: what are you really buying when you buy an artwork?
Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together, 1997, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Alamy 
From the new issue of frieze: Changes in urban cultures and queer aesthetics across the Sinosphere 
On the occasion of two UK solo exhibitions, the British artist reflects on the art and events that have shaped her...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

September 2017

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017