Michael Riedel's "Besuchte und nicht besuchte Ausstellungen" ("Visited and unvisited exhibitions", 2017)

The system artist

At first sight the text-heavy, graphic works by Michael Riedel merely seem highly decorative. Only at second sight do you recognize the complex theories underpinning them.
by Martina Metzner | 7/3/2018

Anyone who has already visited the Freitagsküche (Friday Kitchen) in Frankfurt, is likely to have noticed the work of Michael Riedel: After all, the walls are papered with his graphic works. They are slightly reminiscent of musical scores, and thanks to the different font sizes, empty spaces and spacings the text fragments featuring black letters on a white background or vice versa produce a visual rhythm across the entire wall surface. Riedel set up the Freitagsküche together with Thomas Friemel back in 2004 in an empty house close to the city’s Osthafen. The culinary concept: artists take it in turns to create a meal and invite people to enjoy it in return for a small sum of money. 

Born 1972 in Rüsselsheim, Riedel studied variously at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and at Frankfurt’s own Städelschule. Language and communication have been one of his key preoccupations, and he has addressed these subjects in a highly diverse manner. More recently in cooperation with the Berlin-based architecture office Kuehn Malvezzi he designed the facades and outdoor space of the new extension to Moderne Galerie in Saarbrücken as a text artwork. Similarly, the fact that he made his “Material Art” piece available as a top for a table by e15 is evidence of his interdisciplinary style. Today, he is Professor for Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. His works are exhibited worldwide, for example in the Tate Modern in London or in the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. And David Zwirner art gallery in New York has signed him on. The gallery adores the apparently barren, dry art of the German, who at first sight seems somewhat remote and whom Max Hollein declared to be “one of the most important artists of our day”. In 2016, Städelsche Museums-Verein under the aegis of Hollein acquired some of Riedel’s works. They are now being shown in the exhibition “Graphic Art as Event” in Frakfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst (MAK); the show runs until October 14, 2018.

"Ansicht B (Hilfszeichnung)" ("View B (auxiliary drawing)") by Michael Riedel (1996)
"Ich bin verschwunden" ("I've disappeared") - Michael Riedel after a lecture at the Städelschule (1998)

“Michael Riedel is concerned with reshaping things,” explained MAK Director Matthias Wagner K in his speech at the exhibition opening – at which the artist was present. Riedel himself talks of “systems”, of decisions that constitute these systems, of the necessity for systems to advance, and the opportunities this offers him. One of the works on display in the exhibition is “Signetic Drawing” that he began at the age of 22 at the Städelschule: Beginning with the first letter of his first name “M,” he created one thousand drawings by taking the elements of the letter and producing a whole host of variations on them. His work is like a walk-through demonstration piece explaining the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann, who believed our decisions were fundamentally determined by rules intrinsic to the particular system. Statements such as “I am just the person executing the work. The system dictated it to me,” indicate Riedel’s affinity with Luhmann’s positions. 

The texts that he processes in his works are transformations of things already written or previous happenings: For example, Riedel uses HTML codes from reviews of his work to be found on the Net. Or he transcribes his entire everyday communications – and you can also listen to the mini discs of the recordings. It is a familiar subject: The artist who explores his own self and questions his role. The work created especially for the exhibition in MAK, which construes the space itself as an artistic work, highlights Riedel’s reference back to himself: In 2004 while still a student at the Städel academy, he projected an image of the Robert Johnson club upside down onto the ceiling of Galerie Michael Neff in Frankfurt. In MAK it is the outlines of the exhibition room and the shapes it contains that Riedel mirrors on the wall and ceiling and embellishes with text. 

No question about it: Michael Riedel is a highly cerebral artist with a highly theoretical approach, who calls on observers to reflect for themselves. His various positions such as drawings, posters, “poster paintings” or even PowerPoint presentations depict what is both a process and an event in one, meaning that his work is never complete. The creative impact of artificial intelligence is the topic on which Riedel is currently focusing. And the exhibition also features a digital application that independently continues the drawing of a work started by the artist. Riedel himself summarized the dramatic nature of this artistic approach at the exhibition opening in a brief message: “I stand here to tell you that I have disappeared. I stand here to tell you that art has disappeared.”

Michael Riedel. Grafik als Ereignis
Museum Angewandte Kunst
Schaumainkai 17
60594 Frankfurt
until October 14, 2018 

Opening Hours:
Tuesday, Thursday to Sunday: 10 am to 6 pm
Wednesday: 10 am to 8 pm
Monday closed

Repetition and further development: At the MAK, the topic has a far-reaching impact.
Michael Riedel's "Signet" from 1994 is the property of the Städel Museum Association.
For a limited edition by furniture brand e15, Michael Riedel has put twelve motifs from his "Art Material" series on a tabletop.
The artist on the occasion of the cooperation presentation with e15 at the Global Tower in Frankfurt.