Galerie Peter Kilchmann presents The Default Brain, a new solo exhibition by Swiss artist Marc Bauer (*1975 in Geneva; lives and works in Berlin and Zurich). The Default Brain is Bauer’s third solo exhibition at the gallery.
The presentation spans all three rooms of the gallery and reflects the wide range of Bauer’s artistic repertoire in a new, extensive series of works. In addition to monumental wall drawings, new drawings and paintings are on view in both large and small formats. A sound installation featuring a composition by composer Thomas Kuratli/ Pyrit connects the rooms as a soundscape, creating an immersive experience in combination with the visual works.
For his multi-layered series of works, Bauer takes inspiration from his great interest in cultural-historical developments and our current socio-political affairs. Relevant themes from art, history, science, or geopolitics are fragmented and illuminated from different perspectives through large-scale paintings and detailed drawings that interact with site-specific wall drawings. Although black-and-white drawings with pencil and charcoal continue to play an important role in Bauer’s work, in recent years, colored surfaces with colored pencil, oil paint, and crayon have established themselves as supporting components. The combination of graphic and painterly elements forms Bauer’s characteristic visual language, which translates narrative content into a powerful visual experience. The results are narrative spatial situations whose density and color intensity have an almost immersive effect on the viewer.
In his new exhibition, Bauer opens the door into our subconscious. The title The Default Brain refers to different modes of perception in a specific area of the brain that are stimulated by passive, subconscious processes. These are the impalpable moments between sleep and wakefulness when we remember, when thoughts digress, and we think uncontrollably about the past and the future. This concept is explored in the first exhibition room of nine large-scale drawings in charcoal and oil paint (canvas on Aludibond). It is a journey into dreamlike sequences that interweave with the artist’s personal memories and elements of old masters.
The new cycle of works is introduced with Home (160 x 120 cm, see invitation card), which depicts a detached family home in a landscape of surreal color tones. Deep red purple, midnight blue, and moss green form a cloud-like backdrop that, despite its alienation, recalls the topography of a suburb. Thoughts of places and moments from the past are often associated with colors in Bauer’s work. For example, the work shows a very personal memory of his childhood home near Geneva. The sentence written in childlike letters at the bottom of the picture translates as: One takes down the flag at night, at night the house is no longer under the rule of the country. The house acquires a symbolic meaning for the personal associations with home, which can be completely detached from the context of a place or country.
The work The Default Brain I, On the Armchair (160 x 120 cm) shows a young man who has fallen into a spontaneous sleep while sitting on an upholstered armchair. He is slightly slumped, his head resting on his propped-up arm. In a reference to the fresco The Triumph of Death, created in 1450 by an unknown author in Palazzo Sclafani in Palermo, the ghostly silhouettes of dogs and medieval-dressed figures stand out against the darkness of the background. As mysterious figures, they seem to emerge from the thoughts of the sleeping young man. A transparent coloring of violet, blue and yellow tones makes the figures and the armchair shimmer as if in an unreal in-between world.
The interplay of dream, memory and reality, which is emphasized by the glazed hues, runs like a thread through the other works in the room, linking them together in terms of content and form. In The Default Brain II, Mother (160 x 120 cm), the calm features of a sleeping face, inspired by a portrait of the artist’s mother, emerge as if from the smoke of a magic lamp. Sleeping elephants hover in front of the relaxed facial characteristics, entangled in the delicate layers of thinned oil paint as if in a veil. Flowing colors contrast with a very precise line drawing the characteristic outlines of eyebrows, lips and elephants.
In other works, the innocence of sleep is overshadowed by a sense of latent danger that often lurks half asleep in our subconscious. In The Default Brain III, Laying Down (160 x 120 cm), a sleeping young man lies stretched out in a meadow, his legs dangling into the water, as moray-like mythical creatures approach from beneath the surface. The Default Brain IV, On the Hill (160 x 240 cm) shows a group of young men asleep on the edge of an elevated plateau. A dog seems to be watching over the boys, while in the background the ominous expanse of a big city stretches to a mountain range on the horizon. Our fascination with little-explored sleep and the subconscious turns us simultaneously into invading voyeurs and daydreamers as we view the images.
The dreamlike scenes are juxtaposed with a very present reality of the exploitation of nature in the three murals of the same exhibition space. Upon entering, the visitor is towered over by the monumental drawing of a gigantic diamond mine of the Russian city of Mirny. The hole of the mine gapes out of the ground like a wound, while the vastness of the landscape and the softly drawn contours create a magnetic depth. Two further murals show striking images of an oil spill in the Pacific Ocean and the destruction of a fertile forest through deforestation. Together, the works form a web of associations that question the logic between subconscious dreams that deal with closeness to nature and relationships with animals and our very rational actions that push nature to its limits.
The second exhibition room is dedicated to a series of drawings of various formats on paper with pencil, colored pencil and lithographic chalk, which again addresses the theme of the first room and continues it in a mosaic-like manner. The individual drawings show dreamlike scenes, such as a sand castle on the shore of a turbulent sea (The Sand Castle, 70 x 50 cm) or a ship in a narrow bay with rough winding rocks and a deep black sea (The Boat in the Rocks 1984, 70 x 50 cm). The scenes appear fleeting, as if fished from an ephemeral stream of thought. In the work The Default Brain V, On the Blanket with the Dog (70 x 50 cm), a young man is depicted resting in absolute relaxation on a plump blanket. Lying on his back and wearing casual street clothes, he appears to be engrossed in a brief sleep while a dog, also slumbering, nestles against him. Above his head hovers an inkblot pattern, as used in the so-called Rorschach test in psychodiagnostics to determine personality. While the blanket in its form and the dynamic hatching with lithographic chalk is reminiscent of a brain and its coils, the floating ink pattern with its flowing, silk-pale aesthetics seems like a visualization of a dream.
The purple coastal landscape in Freud’s Sofa (70 x 50 cm) also appears to show a dream, despite the absence of a sleeping protagonist. In the lower half of the picture there is an interior with a sofa bed, which gives a glimpse of Freud’s characteristic living room. The soft contours of the landscape’s surfaces, worked out with chalk, contrast sharply with the patterns and small objects drawn in detail with pencil in the cluttered interior. Other works with variations of the Rorschach patterns conclude the circle of this cycle of works, in which each work refers to the other and forms poetic parallels. The immersive effect of the exhibition on the viewer is underlined by the sounds of the musical composition by Thomas Kuratli/ Pyrit.
Marc Bauer’s work have been exhibited internationally since 2000. His current solo exhibition in the Musée des Moulages, Paris, with texts by Sophie Delpeux, runs until end of November. Bauer will be part of the Congo Biennale in Kinshaha with a new project, taking place from Sept. 16 to Oct. 23. Among others, past solo exhibition have been held in the following instistutions: FRAC Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand (2021); Berlinischen Galerie, Berlin; Istituto Svizzero, Mailand; De La Warr Pavillion Bexhill on Sea (all in 2020); The Drawing Room, London (2019); Musée Jenisch, Vevey (2016); FRAC Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, Marseille (2015); Museum Folkwang, Essen (2014); Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2013). Recent group exhibitions include (selection): “Dragonfly Meets Faun & Pixel Matter”, Curuna Ardez, (bis 11. September); The Roaring Twenties”, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2021); “Smoke and Mirrors”, Kunsthaus Zürich (2020), “United by AIDS”, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich; “Fly me to the Moon”, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich (beide 2019); 21. Sydney Biennale, Sydney (2018), 10 Years Drawing Prize”, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2017) and “Il y a de l’autre”, Rencontres d’Arles, Arles (2016). Bauer is represented in the internatioal collections of institutions worldwide, such as Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum Folkwang, Essen; Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM) and in several Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (FRAC), France, to name but a few.
In 2019, Marc Bauer was awarded the GASAG Art Prize 2020, which is specifically aimed at artists at the intersection between art and science and is presented in cooperation with the Berlinische Galerie, following a solo exhibition and a monographic publication. In 202 he was awarded the Prix Meret Oppenheim.
Marc Bauer, The Default Brain, 2022. Exhibition view, Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich. Photography: Sebastian Schaub, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann