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>> Joseph Beuys and his students
>> Vik Muniz: Art in the Favelas
>> Ayse Erkmen's Interventions
>> German Pop Art: Thomas Bayrle

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To and fro as a method, the exchange of arguments and ideas, of ambitions and reinforcements, must have also had an impact on Bayrle's classes. If you listen very closely to how the professor talks, you find out a lot about how he teaches. He almost sings his sentences. He feels his way forward, carefully assessing individual phrases, somewhat reminiscent of the way Adorno spoke. After using the word "mature," for example, the artist stops talking, weighs up the expression and then looks for an alternative, because it sounds too worn, "mature." Instead of talking about his "pupils" or "students," he prefers to say "my young colleagues."

Then his speech sounds more carefree again, more youthful, is riddled with Anglicisms. But Bayrle, who co-founded the Gulliver-Presse publishing company in the sixties, is never careless or sloppy when he talks. He uses verbal imagery, similes, metaphors. Often, he pits one principle against another dialectically, for example, melancholy against imprudence, and finds a third: composure. Many things become relativized as he speaks, and rearranged right after they are spoken. "I'm amazed," says Bayrle, "that there's still a piece of paper under the piece I thought was the last."

Thomas Bayrle, Stadt, 1976, © VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008,
Deutsche Bank Collection

The artist as professor, in Bayrle's case that means: breaking new ground with dialog. Nothing is given, nothing can be imparted as a block of knowledge from speaker to listener, from teacher to student.

Bayrle sees himself in the tradition of Chinese philosophy. Sometimes (though very rarely), he feels something should remain unspoken. While he doesn't like to make the business of teaching sound too mysterious, he says that in some cases his choice of students is simply intuitive. For this reason, he always wanted to see the candidates and not just their work. "It was important to me that they had had an existential experience," says Bayrle, "for artists, life experience is an island they can always return to. If it's not there, everything floats." Before studying with Bayrle Silke Wagner was a nurse, Phillip Zaiser a blacksmith, Thomas Zipp a baker. "They had all experienced something," their former teacher remarks.

Thomas Bayrle, Rimini II, 1974, © VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008,
Deutsche Bank Collection

Occasionally, however, life experience or unusual expression manifests itself in the candidates' work after all. Sergej Jensen undermined all the formal conditions for entry and submitted a two-by-two-meter oil painting, a portrait of his mother. "In that case you could also see there was a lot going on," Bayrle says, and still does today.

Tobias Rehberger is one of the most well known artists who studied with the professor ("But he would have become famous even without me," says Bayrle). The Städel graduate, who today himself teaches at the Städelschule, still vividly remembers the entrance examination. There were two selection committees, he says. One consisted of rather ethereal staff, while the other was made up of "popish people" like Bayrle, and Rehberger's works, which were often confused with design, fared better with the latter. "Who knows whether I would been accepted otherwise," the Frankfurt artist says today.

Thomas Bayrle,
Schwarzer Freitag, 1987, © VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008,
Deutsche Bank Collection

In the orientation class led by Thomas Bayrle, Rehberger found confirmation that the professor was a "good guy who said strange things." And later, when his teacher was given his own class, Rehberger attended it. "Because he was open and could understand many things. He tickled out what was inside of you."

Thomas Bayrle is more modest about this: "Actually, I only created an atmosphere. Like yeast in a cake." In this approach, says Bayrle, art is a "funny idea," an idea that a teacher has to help along. The other half of the work consists of cleanly giving the idea material form. For Bayrle, craftsmanship is not something stupid that has to be learned, as the reactionary grumblers claim, but an experience of materiality. Something that comes after all the talk and after the idea.

Conceiving of class as a "continual massage," being available so that threads can be woven further at any time - for this you also need a certain self-image as an artist. Thomas Bayrle (and this even becomes apparent in a short conversation) does not embrace the popular ideal of the authentic, suffering artist, whose prototype is embodied today by, say, Neo Rauch. The Leipzig painter, who also recently stopped teaching, often moaned that art schools were "time-obliterating aggregates." As he nodded off at faculty meetings, he heard from his studio the "laments of torsi in unfinished paintings who were waiting for arms and legs."

Thomas Bayrle, Sternenauto, 1970, © VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008,
Deutsche Bank Collection

No laments can be heard in Thomas Bayrle's studio. He looks for the Golden Mean, like the Chinese, the artist says into the silence. No matter whether in children's education, in class at the art school, or in the production of his own works. Tobias Rehberger will later say on the phone that as a teacher he "is a little tougher than Thomas, somewhat more direct to the students. Thomas was very nice to everyone." But that's not meant as criticism. It's a question of disposition, and perhaps also a question of the choice of words. For instead of "nice" you could also say "composed."

Thomas Bayrle's will present his work at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne from October 24, 2008 to January 25, 2009. Tobias Rehberger's show "the-chicken-egg-no-problem" will be on view at the Museum Ludwig until September 21. In addition, works by Bayrle will be shown at the MACBA in Barcelona from February 6 to April 19, 2009.

Thomas Bayrle, Hofbräu, 1969, © VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008,
Deutsche Bank Collection

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