“I have always been particularly interested in social issues, and as society is constantly subject to change, as it is processual, this form of representation plays a part. Whereby I am not interested in ‘reproduction,’ but rather I am trying to force my production materials into parallel processes.”
The title “Welt im Kopf” [World in Mind], borrows from Brehmer’s 1970 16 mm video work. The exhibition combines seminal and previously unexhibited artworks—drawings, prints, paintings, films, and objects—and ephemera and archival documents made between the 1960s and mid-1980s. The exhibition is organized in two parts and does not follow chronology, providing an overview of Brehmer’s complex methodologies structured by a central question: How can the way capital shapes the perception of reality in the minds of the individual and the collective be made visible?
At Petzel Gallery, artworks from the 1960s are intended to exercise “ideological kleptomania” (Georg Jappe), achieved by subverting state symbols from both sides of the Iron Curtain. Works based on commemorative stamps, the “business cards of the state” (Walter Benjamin)—e.g., depicting John F. Kennedy, Soviet propaganda, and German monuments—or altered flags are juxtaposed with those made from appropriated advertisements. Influenced by correspondence with Richard Hamilton, these “Trivialgrafiken” test how consumer desire is engineered and ideology naturalized. Not only did Brehmer depict politically-charged subject matter, but he also addressed techniques (such as the cliché print), distribution, and collective actions with other artists. For example, a rare 1968 edition of the influential magazine Interfunktion, on view in the exhibition, documents how Brehmer and artists like Chris Reinecke positioned themselves in opposition to documenta and its organizers, several of whom had past ties to the Nazi regime, such as Werner Haftmann.
Maxwell Graham Gallery presents stamps alongside abstract works made around the time of his participation in exhibitions that include “Art Into Society, Society Into Art” at ICA London with Hans Haacke, among others. These works are meant to reflect the politics of societal systems, geography, and hegemonic and colonial mechanisms, as seen in the large-scale Zeitzonen installation first presented in 1976 at René Block Gallery, and subsequently at Centre Pompidou. From the 1970s onwards, Brehmer started working with diagrams and statistics that considered economic output and population data, coinciding with the conceptualization of biopolitics in the Western welfare states. The expansive series of works Seele und Gefühl eines Arbeiters (1978–81)—based on a study on worker’s emotions and productivity—brings to mind the tension between quantification, administrative abstraction, and lived experience at play in the works of artists such as stanley brouwn or Hanne Darboven. With works such as Über die Bilder from 1979—brushstroke renderings of thermal imaging of brain activity while discussing pictures—the exhibition traces the artist’s emergence as a prototype for the individualized cognitive worker and the rise of a form of capitalism driven by data and feedback.
Elisa R. Linn and Lennart Wolff
at Maxwell Graham, New York
until April 1, 2023
at Petzel Gallery, New York
until April 29, 2023