In direct confrontation with Gerhard Richter’s “Birkenau” cycle, which has been on display in the neighbouring Neue Nationalgalerie since 1 April 2023, the German-British artist Michael Müller (b. 1970) is addressing the question of the representability of the Holocaust and the artistic approach to evil in a special exhibition at St. Matthäus-Kirche. We hereby cordially invite you to the press preview of the exhibition with the artist on Friday, 21 April 2023, at 12 noon in St. Matthäus-Kirche.
Fig. above: Michael Müller, Birkenau in Farbe, 2022, Öl auf bedrucktem Belgischen Leinen, 208 x 160 x 3,5 cm, © Studio Michael Müller, Photo Mathias Schormann
Can the horror of the Holocaust be shown? Gerhard Richter’s 2014 “Birkenau” cycle – four abstract overpaintings of photorealistic paintings based on photographs from Auschwitz-Birkenau – is considered the most important artistic engagement with the subject. In a 16-part work, artist Michael Müller interrogates Richter’s oeuvre by uncovering its layers and showing mechanisms that, when closely examined and analysed, leave room for discussion.
The other works in the exhibition show that this also raises fundamental questions about artistic forms and limits of the representability of singular events and the relationship between photography and painting, reality and representation, representationalism and abstraction. They present alternative forms of artistic engagement with the Holocaust, refraining from a definitive, final answer, but creating a space of openness that allows and enables a discussion to be constantly conducted and updated. In dialogue with the works of Gerhard Richter, Müller’s works call for an examination of the question of appropriate forms of remembrance.
The complex of works by Michael Müller shown in the exhibition at St. Matthäus-Kirche, created between 2013 and 2022, is intensively dedicated to the question of the possibilities and impossibilities of an artistic approach to the Holocaust and its representability by artistic means. This is a theme that has been repeated in Müller’s oeuvre for some time, but here it finds a new, heightened intensity and focus. The individual works are united by the fact that they are a questioning from different analytical directions, from different perspectives and in a wide spectrum of artistic media – painting, sculpture, photography, text and concept – and refer only to the openness of questioning, the progress of knowledge through constant, current examination.
A special role within the complex of works is played by the four photographs that were presumably taken secretly in Birkenau by Alberto Errera, a member of the so-called “Sonderkommando” of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and smuggled out of the death camp. These four photographs are the only direct and immediate visual testimonies of the Holocaust. The “Sonderkommando”, a group of Jewish prisoners who had to prepare and follow the mass murder by the National Socialists, was involved in the perverse logic of the National Socialists to destroy every testimony and witness of the Holocaust, to erase every trace. The “Sonderkommando”, which had to lead prisoners into the gas chambers, drag the clawed bodies out of the gas chambers, break out their gold teeth and burn them in the crematoria or in trenches, was “replaced” at regular intervals, i.e. murdered.
In the church hall of St. Matthäus-Kirche, the exhibition “Am Abgrund der Bilder” (At the Abyss of Images) not only poses anew the question of the biblical prohibition of images, but also the question of a God who could allow the murder of millions. At the same time, they shed light on the too-little-noticed history of the Jewish bourgeoisie in the old Tiergarten quarter around St. Matthäus-Kirche, which – like the quarter as a whole – fell victim to the National Socialists and was “painted over” by the Kulturforum. Its history is only just being rediscovered.
In his work, the German-British artist Michael Anthony Müller (b. 1970) explores the aesthetics and visualisation of complex thought processes, which he constantly questions in terms of their sensory experience and material content. Starting from historical narratives, scientific methods, social norms as well as linguistic and numerical systems, he develops an artistic practice that repeatedly takes these systems and structures to their limits through variation, transformation, manipulation and fictionalising modification. The resulting deviations and irritations, as well as the resulting doubt about the existing and mistrust of unquestioned truths, create a completely independent artistic formal language that manifests itself not only in large-format paintings and drawings, but also in sculptures, installations, performances and Müller’s curatorial practice. Michael Müller lives and works in Berlin. From 2015 to 2018, he taught as a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK). Michael Müller’s works have recently been shown in solo exhibitions at the Städel Museum Frankfurt, the Museum im Kulturspeicher Würzburg and the Galerie du Monde Hong Kong, among others. www.studiomichaelmueller.com
St. Matthäus-Kirche, Kulturforum
Saturday, 22. April 2023, 7 pm
Sunday, 23. April – Sunday, 3. September 2023
Tuesday till Sunday 11 am – 6 pm