meese

German badboy artist Jonathan Meese debuts his anti-art prints at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

Jonathan Meese, born in Tokyo in 1970, ranks among today’s most colorful German artists. Extensive, obsessive, and radical, his oeuvre shows a definite actionist character. Bringing his body into play without restriction and employing all media, Meese combines painting, drawing, and sculpture with collages, texts, and collections of material to sprawling installations resembling towering piles of high art and trash. Each of his statements—which oscillate between provocation, blasphemy, catharsis, exorcism, and criticism of the political system—is art and only seemingly pretentious and insolent. Meese rather follows in the tradition of the Dadaists who regarded the “mumblings of lunatics and children” and nonsense as the only way back to elementary truths: art is a child’s game in the true sense of the word to be attained with nothing less than a complete change of system from “democracy or some other form of government made by people” to the “dictatorship of art.”

In Meese’s utopia of the liberation from all ideology and art assuming power, an ironically eloquent cultural pessimism converges with the highest aim of the classical avant-gardes: to bring art and life together. Particularly in his texts and performances, Meese relies on an unparalleled radicalization, uses the rhetoric repertoire of twentieth-century dictatorships—especially of National Socialism—for his purposes, and reduces their vocabulary and gestures to the absurd when he propagates the ideal of “total art.” He does not claim the role of dictator for himself—”With art in power I’ll be gone, too”—but rather that of the tireless “ant of art.”

Jonathan Meese has made approximately one hundred prints, either as single sheets or for portfolios, since 2003. The mostly large-format lithographs, etchings, and woodcuts are portraits of characters from history, mythology, and pop culture, or imaginary figures, which, in their graphic reduction, turn into symbols of art history and the artist’s alter ego. In his universe, historical and mythological figures share the same reality: power people like Emperor Nero, Wagner, Nietzsche, or Hitler, heroes of state such as Hagen von Tronje or Saint-Just—a symbolic figure of many generations and one of the inventors of an exaggerated centralization of power – as well as villains from James Bond novels are taken apart, reassembled, and “mashed,” as the artist aptly notes. In comparison with other works, the production of images in Meese’s concentrated, expressive prints strikes us as more eruptive and ecstatic. It is especially the technique of lithography that best accommodates his way of working by allowing him to draw quickly on stone. “What’s direct and fast suits me because it’s the most radical,” is how Meese explains the connection between the graphic form and his artistic intentions. “In most cases you don’t get more precise when you work longer on something, polishing it.”

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