• ArtistThomas Bayrle
  • TitleMao
  • Year of Origin1966
  • GenreInstallation
  • Technique and DimensionOil on wood, construction/motor, 145 x 148 x 32 cm
  • Erwerbungsjahr

Foto: Axel Schneider / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

The great Mao (1973) by Andy Warhol from the Marx Collection is undoubtedly one of the internationally most famous works in the Hamburger Bahnhof today. The fact that the work, created by Thomas Bayrle as early as 1966, has now been acquired for the collection of the National Gallery is a true stroke of luck. The purchase has not only secured a key work by the artist, but also a historical icon of German pop for Berlin and the public. A better complement to Warhol’s Mao could hardly be imagined. In the machine object Mao from 1966, hundreds of small figures form the “Superform”. An electric motor moves the individual figures up and down, transforming the portrait of Mao into the red star, only to calmly transform back into the image of the Great Chairman. The interplay could continue until the drive collapses or one figure falls out of line from exhaustion and blocks the entire picture.

“On a ‘whim’ that I can no longer explain exactly, I built / made / painted a ‘machine’ in which hundreds of athletes do gymnastics behind the portrait of Mao Tse-tung,” Bayrle says. Sooner or later, the viewer feels like a biologist examining an anthill and not knowing what to look at first. It is impossible to observe the individual animal and the movement flows in the entire burrow at the same time.

Until 1966 Bayrle, born in 1937, developed nine more machines, which the art theorist Bazon Brock called “super catapults”. They depict Western consumers brushing their teeth, eating ice cream, drinking beer, marching, shaving – they form themselves into a picture in the same constant movement. Looking back, the artist states: “At that time, I was actually only interested in Siegfried Kracauer’s ‘Ornament of the Masses’. I paid scant attention to ideological differences and – against the protest of my leftist friends – mixed up communist and capitalist elements and contents. According to the motto ‘technical patterns over there / organic ornaments over there’, in my imagination East and West interweave like warp and weft into one and the same fabric.

Andreas Bee