Thomas Bayrle: ‘All-in-One’

The largest exhibition of Bayrle’s work to be shown in the UK, the BALTIC’s show is an impressive tribute to his hugely versatile body of work…

On entering the BALTIC gallery space, you are at once struck by the boldness of the art. Perspective is the key to understanding Bayrle’s work as the viewing experience is dramatically altered depending on where you stand. This is particularly the case with the larger compositions, his ‘super-images’, which appear from a distance to recall the pop art tradition through cartoon-like faces and bright colour, yet as you approach the work the figure becomes increasingly distorted and broken down into tiny identical patterns. The most impressive example of Bayrle’s use of this technique is ‘Capsel’ (1983), a huge photography collage of a man and woman in bed. The absence of colour here complicates the viewing experience further as the eyes struggle to find shape in the mass of black and white lines, but closer inspection of the piece reveals it to be a patchwork of small prints of the whole. In this way, Bayrle’s work, unlike that of many fine artists, invites the viewer to understand the creative process as the image is visually deconstructed and reconstructed depending on the individual’s position in the surrounding space.


Much of Bayrle’s work from the post-war period functions through optical illusion, giving the appearance of movement on a static canvas; the result is hypnotic and even, in some cases a little unsettling, reflecting the German artist’s criticism of capitalism and political indoctrination. The strangely realistic and seemingly 3D faces that line the walls of the front gallery space create a disturbing sensation of constantly being watched, which is intensified by the noises omitted from the two televisions playing images of bizarre futuristic figures on loop.

The furthest upstairs space contains a set of erotic images that verge on the pornographic at times and demonstrate Bayrle’s engagement with the fight for sexual freedom in the 1960s. The walls of the room are lined with aggressively bright wallpaper fitting with the explicit nature of the images of figures involved in sexual acts. However, looking at the mass of widespread legs and twisted limbs, one cannot help but feel Bayrle is encouraging the images to be viewed with a sense of humour.


An interest in joining and connecting different shapes and textures runs throughout Bayrle’s work and feeds into the, perhaps, most prominent themes of the second-half of the exhibition: urban development and new technologies. Drawing on his experiences as a weaver in a textile factory, Bayrle concentrates on the weaving and combining of different fabrics and patterns to produce complex structures heavily imbued with the mathematical influence of architecture. The hanging installation, ‘SARS Formation’ (2005) invites the viewer to contemplate the use of space and the mechanical process of creation.

The work presented in the lower level exhibition space develops this further by exposing the inner workings of engine parts. The continual running of the machinery is accompanied by robotic, indistinguishable voices transmitted through speakers, connecting the human world to that of machines in a way that is, as with much of Bayrle’s work, simultaneously deeply disturbing and intensely fascinating.

Entering into Bayrle’s graphic imagination is a bewildering experience, but behind the chaotic assault on the senses is some fiercely intelligent work, highlighting the issues and tensions of the modern world.

Thomas Bayrle: All-in-One runs until 23 February at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead

This article was originally written for and published by PORT Magazine:

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