Markus Liehr: Sotheby's Series
July 4 – 15
Open White gallery
Weserstr. 56, 12045
By JEFFREY GRUNTHANER, July 2019
Showing at Open White gallery in Berlin through July 15th, Markus Liehr’s Sotheby’s Series has a touristic decadence about it. It’s not just the garish, pastel-colored pigments he uses, or the fact that the series thematizes real estate properties auctioned by Sotheby’s which sell for upwards of 6 million dollars. I feel like the detachment Liehr highlights is born of the computer screen. Sourced from Sotheby's own website, the commodified unreality of these luxury spaces, separated from artist and viewer both by a partition of exhorbitant value, is not lost on Liehr. The painting Sotheby’s (Hollywood), for example, impressionistically recreates an apartment that was on sale in 2017—a property which existed only virtually, a sort of fixer-upper for the wealthy elite, who would only need to supply the space with physical dimensions. This tension between the virtual and the real has resulted in an equally “unfinished” painting, with patches here and there exposing white canvas.
What leaps to the eyes is not the criticality of Liehr’s paintings, but their color pallette: a fun-in-the-sun vibe that favors muted pinks, yellows, and cerulean blues shot through with the rarefied atmosphere of perfect vacuousness that arch-capitalists associate with luxury. The intentional limpness underlying each painting, which mimics stylistic incompetence, elegantly describes the confusion of real estate and art. There’s a decided nihilism tethering these paintings together, enabling the series to allude to mid-century mafioso Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who was shot dead in a luxury home in Beverly Hills. I wonder if the concept of virtual housing—something like a condominium readily purchased from IKEA—corresponds to the mental image a gangster like “Bugsy” had of the good life. Sotheby’s vision of unpeopled, furnished rooms could be construed as a form of eudaimonia where all human life has suddenly, pervasively disappeared.
Liehr’s paintings are less concerned with didacticism than with the sensuousness of paint. I get the sense that he really enjoys depicting bright, petrified interiors, even as he renders them so that they disappear in places. Trained as a realist, when Liehr paints absence it’s really haunting, but in a contemporary way—like how ghosts could be considered a glitch in the simulation we’re all supposedly inhabiting. I probably wouldn’t have guessed Sotheby’s connection with real estate if not for this show. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer & artist currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems & reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet News, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Louffa Press, Drag City Books, & other venues. Recent curatorial projects include the reading & discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth, West 22nd Street (NY).view all articles from this author