MARTIN WERTHMANN
CATASTROPHE AS SPACE

December 4, 2020 - April 30, 2021

‘There’s a moment of truth in catastrophe’ (Martin Werthmann). 

HELDENREIZER Contemporary Munich is honoured to present Martin Werthmann’s colossal woodcut installation ‘Catastrophe as Space’ from 4 December until the end of April. The landmark installation is based on the largest known woodcut ever created and is the only ‘walk in’ work produced in this way.  The installation coincides with the first large-format Martin Werthmann monograph, to be published early in 2021 by Hirmer publishing, in collaboration with the Kira A. Princess of Prussia Foundation and the Wilding Cran Gallery Los Angeles. 

To enter the 165 square metres occupied by Martin Werthmann’s monumental woodcut ‘Catastrophe as Space’ at the HELDENREIZER Contemporary gallery in Munich, is to enter a state of disorientation. Colour fields seem to be constantly shifting; becoming liquid, solid…and then melting again in delicate clouds.  The experience is disconcerting, but the overwhelming impression is one of great beauty.  Why, then, the prickling sense of unease?

The answer partly comes from the soundscape that accompanies the installation, in which howling wind and thunder end in a tremendous explosion, and partly from the name of the installation – ‘Catastrophe as Space’ – which primes the viewer for the worst.  It is no empty threat: deep underneath the undeniably gorgeous nebulae of the installation are the found images of war, terrorism and other acts of violence, over which Martin Werthmann superimposes forms and colours.  Do these images, now overlaid to the point of invisibility, nevertheless inject a nameless menace to the installation?

 

Certainly, Werthmann has identified disaster as forming a connection between beauty and violence.  ‘There’s a moment of truth in catastrophe,’ he has said, ‘And there’s this dissonance between beauty and violence.  It’s just about life and death and everything else doesn’t matter in this tiny moment.’

 

The artist’s working methods and use of contemporary imagery (as well as his openness to historical artefacts – the soundscape of the installation is based on a recording of the explosion of the AN602 hydrogen bomb: the biggest ever man-made explosion) root Werthmann’s work firmly in the present.  As he has previously commented, ‘I don’t create my art from the art of other people, but actually from the current image narrative…you need to engage with the world [instead] in order to make art.’

 

Despite this outward-focused and contemporary approach to creating art, the monumental nature of Martin Werthmann’s work does strike deep art historical resonances.  In his foreword to a soon-to-be-published monograph of Werthmann’s work, Sir Norman Rosenthal explains the similarities he sees between Werthmann’s wood cuts and the monotype prints made by artists such as Dürer and Titian.  Nevertheless, this installation, in which the wood cut covers every centimetre of the gallery’s space: ceiling, floor and walls, is believed to be the largest woodcut ever created and there is no other example of such a technique being used to create a ‘walk in’ space.  The result is a tactile as well as visual experience, with visitors encouraged – indeed forced – to touch the work by entering into it.  A visceral experience, too, as the installation opens up that fractional moment between beauty and violence and invites the viewer inside.

Martin Werthmann (born 1982, lives and works in Berlin) is one of the most prominent artists of his generation to devote themselves to the genre of woodblock printing. Between 2004 and 2009, he studied with Andreas Slominski at the Academy of Fine Arts Hamburg.  He has also studied with Wim Wenders, Fatih Akin and Daniel Richter.  On the surface, Werthmann’s works are an aesthetically engaging series of patterns and textures.  Yet, with more investigation, the images under the surface reveal a tension and subtle melancholy.  The motifs and patterns in his prints are created from found images of tragic events such as car accidents and car bomb explosions juxtaposed with mundane elements like picturesque landscapes and water surfaces.  Aside from the pure aesthetic interest, he is drawn to photos of catastrophic events because they represent moments that break daily routines and disrupt society.  His monumental colour woodblock prints on vast lengths of paper are captivating in their radically new use of forms as well as an aesthetic that puts the vague and the diffuse centre stage.

Exhibition

04.12.2020 - 30.04.2021

Türkenstr. 32, 80335 Munich

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Publication