John M Armleder

About Nothing. Arbeiten auf Papier 1964 – 2004


With the exhibition "About Nothing", Works on paper, 1964 – 2004, the Kunsthalle Zürich presents an overview of works on paper by Geneva based artist John Armleder (b. 1948).

The exhibition will present rare works from the 1960's from the artist's private collection that have never been previously shown together with works from private and public collections that will document his production in this particular medium to this date. The exhibition is being realised in close collaboration with John M Armleder who takes a dominant role in the layout and installation of the exhibition, successfully linking the diverse formats and styles of his extraordinary oeuvre with a site-specific wallpaper presentation. The exhibition will receive the largest group of works on paper that exist in a museum from the collection of the Musée d'art et d'histoire in Geneva. Over the years, a group of approximately 70 works were integrated into the collection in collaboration with John M Armleder.

John Armleder's works on paper build a sort of thread. They centre and connect the comprehensive and always surprising Oeuvre of John Armleder's paintings, sculptures and installations along with his continuous creations in the field of printing, publishing and performing.

With this exhibition we would like to make this thread, the continuity in the artist's oeuvre, visible. His works on paper show the consistent development of an artist who in the past forty years has permanently reinvented himself and who's crucial contribution to the important formal and textual art historical tendencies of this day have left an impact. Starting with his fluxus oriented works to his postmodern appendages of his neo-suprematism, neo-geo and neo-pop works. Currently in an environment where abstraction is being "re-discovered" – not as yet another Neo-Geo but as a palette of subjective and emotionalised relations to form – it becomes apparent how important the works on paper and drawings by Armleder are who decisively contributed to the shaping of the history of abstraction with his oeuvre. Far from the discussions of materiality and from the discourses of the high and low of the late eighties and early nineties, John Armleder's works on paper open a direct insight into his continued confrontation with art, especially with abstract art and in regard to the relationship of art to everyday reality and the artistic act of creation.

Parker Williams, the long-term alter ego of the artist, articulates this in an interview with John M Armleder as follows:

Parker Williams: John M Armleder, your work has in these past couple of years been staged extensively again, giving it a renewed visibility and above all describing a critical platform where your art seems extremely influential on today's scene according to many younger artists and critics. Your exhibits appear in venues of different types, all over the world, and in many forms. Just to name a few, your disco-ball installations (Global Domes, Liberty Domes) have been seen at the MoMA in New York, in the opening show of the Contemporary Arts Centre designed by Zaha Hadid in Cincinnati, and the «ein-leuchten», the inaugural exhibition of the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg. Your wall sweeping kinetic neon pieces where first at Caratsch de Pury & Luxembourg in Zurich, before being at the last Lyon Biennale, also at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg and at the GAMeC in Bergamo, your most recent wall-paintings have as well gathered critical attention as they cover the premises of many galleries and museums such as the ICA in Boston, the Mamac in Nice, the ICA in Sydney, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Le Magasin de Grenoble, or again the MoMA in New York – all announcing the publication by Lionel Bovier of the catalogue raisonné of these works (1966 – 2005). Then there are those huge walk-in diorama-gardens like the ones you did in the «Flower Power» exhibition in Lille or condensed at «Art Unlimited» in Basel, or the scaffolding towers one has seen at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden and so on, including your new videos, new Furniture-Sculptures, some incorporating classic original design by Prouvé, Aalto, Jacobsen, Niemeyer and the such (also for those work is a catalogue raisonné, 1979 – 2005, in preparation) new dot-paintings and other abstract paintings, the continuing series of Pour-Paintings which have lately gained wide appraisal… Now this turns out to be a full cornucopia stuffing enabling all of us to re-evaluate what we believed to know about your art. Then, as we are about to set up the largest ever show of your works on paper covering over 40 years of work, you choose to call the exhibition «About Nothing»…
John M Armleder: Yes, that’s about it!
PW: As a matter of fact, many people are not aware that your very first personal museum show, initiated by Dieter Koepplin, was an exhibition of works on paper («981 and other pieces») at the Kunstmuseum in Basel in 1980. Some of the exhibits are back on view here at the Kunsthalle in Zurich, including early pen and ink drawings that have a definite Wols or Klee touch, some Picabia style gouaches and colour pencil works that recall your para-suprematist and para-constructivist paintings that will end up defining you, after being a Neo-Dadaist and Fluxus linked artist, as a postmodernist deconstructionist, an appropriationist and a neo-geo leader. Your full body of work though, as revealed by the comprehensive display of all these "work-stains" that somehow tell a hidden story and write a subtext to your art, we might say does not live up to such identifications. It rather spreads a range of strategies that exclude only exclusion. Some will see this as some kind of encyclopaedia, especially in this paper format, but with a scrambled lexicon. You do relish in going on with things, as opposed to a progressive stylistic continuum. You might as well tomorrow do your first drawing again. It’s like if it has passed the birth-test, it will never stop coming back to life again. You add layers of the various and the same. It’s a club sandwich!
JMA: I might as well be a pop artist after all.
PW: Well, you smear it all up then, the coats above coats, in this overload theory you developed ad nauseam after a Larry Poons quote. But then you end up with cleaning up and keeping psychotronic effects…
JMA: …and an op artist too …
PW: …and then going the Zen way and making formal plastic displays…
JMA: …and a minimal… oops !
PW: Oh! Forget it! You're just a B-movies addict and probably an UFO believer.
JMA: Now don’t start, because we might still be here in 500 hundred years.
PW: I wont ask why. My point is that this show is about everything.
JMA: As long that it is “about”. Now, this must be understood both ways: just about, almost, and à propos. It’s also the kind of thing you find on the spine of a book. Now, how far the spine and the collated trims are related is always questionable. There are different processes leading to different events. Spine reading is very enriching. I recommend such use of libraries; second best being back page lure-texts. And this is what this present interview is about to become, I guess.
PW: So let me say this. I believe this show, beyond your permanent reliance on John Cage’s open-end gateways, might give a chance to enjoy some magic you seem to tumble around in whatever you do, and, although you don’t seem to give any thoughts into or weight on this, will confirm you, through the manuscripts, and the notations, as a major player in the art world of the last forty years. These works could seem esoteric, or simply too knowledgeable, and less breathtaking than your recent neon bravados, or your blends of artificial and living nature, but they tell an essential story about your unique position, and how it has turned out to be a possible way, as you would state. And somehow, a drawing of yours of 1964 performs as one of 1978, or 2004.
JMA: Well, it’s all paper, after all.

(The show «About Nothing, Works on Paper 1964 – 2004», brings together for the first time app. 500 works by John M Armleder covering his last forty years of production, through a variety of works on paper in all sizes and techniques, including pen and ink, water colour, gouache, acrylic, oil, collage, original books, stamp block, and many more. Many pieces, from the artist's collection, have never been seen before, others, lent by numerous collectors and museums, have not been exhibited to the public since the seventies or the eighties. Some very recent works where incorporated in John M Armleder's latest large monographic shows, or in installations such as a wall-paper ink-jet print, which is realized for this exhibition in a new version. This show is in its form the most comprehensive survey ever assembled of the artist's works and provides a range of clues to his celebrated, influential and very public works such as his Furniture-Sculptures, abstract paintings, neon wall pieces and large installations.)

Parker Williams, Shanghai, October 2004

The Kunsthalle Zürich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Swiss Re, Stiftung Erna und Curt Burgauer