BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 11 NOV 97
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Issue 37

Michael Craig-Martin, Raymond Pettibon

BY Martin Pesch in Reviews | 11 NOV 97

Michael Craig-Martin was given a wall with a curse: 34.5 metres long and 3.6 metres high, it is completely out of proportion. Its impossible dimensions turn anything applied to its surface into tiny, compressed little nothings. Raymond Pettibon got the wall opposite, which is broken by two doors. The two artists, one born in 1941, the other in 1957, did not know each other before they were brought together in Düsseldorf. They had a week before the exhibition opened in which to work on their respective walls. Craig-Martin had already prepared designs for his mural, Pettibon arrived empty-handed. The exhibition oscillates between presenting two individual works and addressing the question of how working 'together' in the Kunstverein affected each of their contributions.

At first glance, one is struck by the discrepancy between the two different modes of presentation. Craig-Martin's painted objects dominate the space in terms of colour and size, while Pettibon's black-and-white figures with added texts almost disappear by contrast. Craig-Martin gave his wall a turquoise ground and painted on it realistically but monochromatic objects from the world of things that surround us: a ladder, a pistol, a hand drill, a grand piano, a chair. We are familiar with all the things painted by Craig-Martin: even though not everyone has sat down at a grand piano or held a pistol, we would still call them everyday objects that no longer create a great deal of fuss. Each object has a double painted in a contrasting colour and with a different perspective. The objects' realistically described form jars against the discrepancies of their relative proportions within the composition. In addition, with their black outlines and juxtapositions of colour, the objects seem to be isolated: floating in space independently of each other and of their background. Through these tricks, Craig-Martin gives the two-dimensional surface of the wall as a whole the character of an object - it becomes a space.

The diagrammatic style of Craig-Martin's outline drawings and the duplication of the objects additionally gives a sense of serial, industrial manufacture.

Pettibon's contribution, which teems with allusions to and questions about art history and 'influence' are interesting when set alongside Craig-Martin's clear roots in Pop Art. At one end of the wall Pettibon has painted a larger-than-life image of the legs of a man. Underneath he has written 'Man with a broom'. It is entirely plausible to see this huge image as a criticism of Craig-Martin's approach: as a metaphor for his effect on a younger generation of British artists and for his working method in Düsseldorf, by which he simply carried out a pre-determined plan, without really entering into a dialogue with his temporary exhibi-tion partner. Although the two artists each painted one of the other's subjects (a stool and a bird) on the opposite end wall, this was really only a token attempt to achieve the dialogue the exhibition planners intended.

Pettibon's appended texts - it is well known that he often paraphrases from his own reading - are more concerned with poets, whose names appear frequently. Harold Bloom's book Anxiety of Influence came to mind. Bloom has argued that literary history consists of many 'mis-readings' of writers who were so afraid of being influenced by their predecessors that they denied their dependence on tradition.

The fact that Pettibon opens up this question of influence and tradition in his comic fragments when in a working situation involving such different artistic approaches and traditions of art, far from creating a dialogue between himself and Craig-Martin, only succeeded in providing a monologue reflecting on the possibilities of a dialogue.

Translated by Michael Robinson