Thursday, 14 May 2009

Martin Maloney.

Martin Maloney.
1938 New Jersey - 2003 Antwerp

Not the British Painter.


moving from the private to the public
moving within through an intervention
moving from the public to the private

( M. M. , Five days and five nights , 1971)

The history of art is an ocean with many wrecks . Some floating on the surface, most almost inaccessible submerged on the seabed. As an art historian, you can surf the waves, and pick up the supernatant oeuvres, or you can go deep sea diving in the hope of discovering less known, less  obvious artists. 
Today you must scrape the bottom to find literature mentioning the name Martin Maloney (1938 - 2003), and even then you will find only loose fragments and faint traces of an oeuvre . 
However, this American artist once was amongst the founders of conceptual art. He had close contacts with the, now classical, conceptual artists and took part in a number of key exhibitions in the late sixties and early seventies.
During this period he was represented by the top galleries of the avant garde , such as Seth Siegelaub in New York, Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf and Art & Project in Amsterdam. 
But the man did not refrain from criticizing the art establishment and his fellow artists , and even used criticism explicitly as the starting point for a number of postcard sized ” language pieces ” (”Designation Deposits” and ”Reject Deposits” , 1967-2001 ). This unruly and polemical art practice , coupled with his radical views and his particular temperament , isolated the artist more and more from the artistic context . 
By the time Martin Maloney, at the age of 65, died in Antwerp, he was materially impoverished and maintained only sporadic contacts with the art world . 
Maloney’s stubborn attitude obviously had other consequences too: because of his own (largely) chosen isolation, he cut himself off from the various channels that art history constructs: gallerists, collectors, critics ,curators ,conservators, art historians, fellow artists . Moreover, he himself destroyed much of his own work . All this results in his absence from the major, canonizing, publications since the seventies devoted to conceptual art .
By putting his radical critique in relation to the art world down on paper, Martin Maloney literally wrote himself out of art history.

Page from "Intervention" at galerie MTL, Brussels

Pages from "Intervention" (five days and fvie nights) at galerie MTL, Brussels

After dropping out of university, in 1962, Maloney settled as an artist in New York . Initially, he had a special interest in the work of the postwar New York School painters like Ad Reinhardt , Barnett Newman , Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock , but gradually shifted his attention away from the pictorial to the textual and non-material forms of art which from the mid- sixties began to emerge . He shared a studio with Lawrence Weiner and maintained relations with artists such as Carl Andre , Joseph Kosuth and Dan Graham. 
In 1966, Maloney took part in the infamous ’25’ group exhibition , organized by the young art dealer Seth Siegelaub ,who was to become the great promoter of conceptual art a few years later.  
Maloney exhibited at Siegelaub several times and also had shows in several major European galleries. During this period, Maloney was  looking for alternatives to the traditional gallery exhibition. In many cases, his solo exhibitions would be accompanied with, or even take the form of an artist’s book. Examples are ‘Interguments’ (1969), ‘Fractionals’ (1970) ‘Reject Objects’ (1971) and ‘Five days and five nights’ (1970). The latter book was published in an edition of 500 copies in the framework of Maloney’s one man show at the MTL gallery in Brussels. Maloney locked himself for five days and five nights in the gallery to work on the resulting booklet of poetic statements. The conventional presentation of objects in a gallery made room for the direct communication of ideas in print .

For his next exhibition at London’s Lisson Gallery (1971), Maloney takes things even a step further. After distributing a poster designed by the artist, Maloney takes residence in the gallery and throughout the whole duration of the event goes into direct confrontation with his audience. The resulting insights and frustrations he wrote in white chalk on the black painted walls of the basement . After a short stay in London, Maloney moved to Amsterdam in 1973 , and leaves behind the hardcore minimalist concept to include wood sculptures and painted text works . Four years later he returned to New York, to gradually retreat in the privacy of his studio , serving as a laboratory for numerous installations and presentations. 

Martin Maloney's contribution to David Lamelas' Publication, Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London, 1970.

From 1995 until his death he resided in Antwerp, where in 2000 he was invited by Flor Bex to realize a mural for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MUHKA). 

Maloney occupied a studio in a dilapidated building on the Jordaenskaai 13 . 
What remained In the six rooms of Maloney’s Antwerp working and living environment were, in addition to a number of ”language pieces” and works on paper, the results of his latest artistic experiments: minimalist ‘floor pieces’ and corner stacks , composed of pieces of fallen ceiling plaster , wallpaper , fabric scraps , canvas and wooden beams from the solid oak doors in the building. 
Like an architectural archivist Maloney recycled and ordered materials of the decaying building into geometric compositions. As if these material traces of a precise and time-consuming labor, the quiet, repetitive activity of the hands were a necessary remedy for the chronic anxiety of mind .

Johan Pas , Ekeren , January 2004

“To live,” Walter Benjamin once famously wrote, “is to leave traces.” But one could almost say that the recently deceased artist Martin Maloney (1938-2003) lived to efface his. Largely forgotten and omitted from art history, the American artist is all but invisible in institutional collections of the conceptual art he participated in from an early stage.

Thus the title of Maloney’s first posthumous exposition, “Here to Stay”, captures all of the ambiguity of the artist’s oeuvre. The exhibition fills the vast decrepit spaces where the artist lived and worked in solitude for the last 8 years of his life while the Antwerp building was waiting to be demolished.

The works, like the space they occupy, are not there ‘to stay’ at all. Immanent destruction is a ghost that has haunted the building for years. And even though his arrival in this space was relatively recent, Maloney’s works made from the recycling of building detritus have evoked architecture and entropy since the late ‘60s.

He made floor-bound geometric ensembles, each composed of thousands of pieces of any one element: neat piles of fallen ceiling plaster, pyramids of broken bricks, layers of split timber from his studio’s oak doors, or thousands of identical maniacally cut squares of carpet. In his work, the ceiling sat on the floor and wall elements became precarious rubble in the corner. In short, boundaries were elided between architectural elements and sculpture, between object and installation.

These ensembles made infinitely mutable, fragile works—more often than not with nothing holding the components together. They could change form a hundred times… or simply be swept away. ‘Structure’, ‘edge’, ‘edged’, ‘angle’, ‘cut’, ‘split’, ‘split space’: these words line Maloney’s texts, canvases and painted brick-works. Even a sampling of his exhibition titles, “Up Against the Wall” (at Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf 1971) or “White Walls are Animals” (at Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp, 1980), give the sense that the constraints of architecture and space — particularly the exhibition space — were never far from Maloney’s thoughts.

For him, the gallery’s symbolic ‘white walls’ needed to be fought, resisted and shown for what they were. In 1971, he locked himself in the confines of the MTL gallery in Brussels for five days and nights. His solitary act and refusal to allow the gallery space its role in visual presentation was the ‘exhibition’, with only a published version of the texts he wrote during his stay in the gallery as material trace.

For his exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London that same year, he painted the walls black and wrote lines of conversation and provocation on them during the gallery’s opening hours to incite the visitors who came to communicate with him. Little, if anything, is left of these meetings of the conceptual, the textual and the architectural, and one has the sense that this is somehow as Maloney wanted it.

Maloney was active as a conceptual artist in the ‘60s close to the likes of Lawrence Weiner, Carl Andre, Joseph Kosuth and Dan Graham. He made his material pile sculptures and conceptual projects alongside a vast body of intricately shaped canvases, highly structured language pieces, box sculptures, and painted statements on canvas.

To see some of what remains of this work on exhibit is to feel a ricochet of influences, references, and dialogues (with Weiner and Andre, of course, but also Frank Stella, Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark, Arte Povera…). Over time, however, he managed to alienate himself from his fellow artists, galleries, collectors, curators and art history alike. With the exhibition’s end, the works on show will travel to museum spaces that share little of the precariousness that make a building in ruin a fitting context for the artist’s complex, volatile work.

The form of the works and their dialogue with space will necessarily change, and Maloney would probably never have accepted such an exhibition at all. As he knew too well, white walls are animals indeed.

Elena Filipovic is an art critic and independent curator based in Paris and Bruxelles

The remains of his studio in Antwerp before a new building had been erected.


Suzy said...

I belatedly fell upon your article on Martin. Really appreciated reading about his work and accomplishments.He was a friend of mine in New York. I knew him in the period just before he left his loft and moved to Holland. One of the most interesting men I have ever met. Our conversations would often last 3-4 hours on the phone. i have 2 of his pieces and they are always commented upon. He had no idea where he would be when he left and I lost track of him.

witzenstein said...

I do think of him a lot still.
We used to meet in the wee hours in a small café in Antwerp and also a lot of times as both of us were shopping in the same supermarket.
I once met Lawrence Weiner and asked him about his relation with Martin. He said: "Martin was a great artist,but also a mean mutherfucker!"
Which is all true! ;-)
Still, he went too fast.
A shame his ex-wife or any of his family in Holland put even more sand on his coffin.

Anonymous said...

I happened across this and am afraid to say it was my notification that Martin had died...I was friends with Martin in Antwerp for years...and I certainly know the tiny cafe you speak of, I think...wonder if his buddy Hans was still around with him at the end? also wonder how Martin passed?

As an american living in Antwerp at the time, Martin was a good friend...really sorry to hear he has died...Jeff in Vermont

witzenstein said...

Martin died of a heart attack in hospital.
It seemed he already had suffered some attacks,alone in his atelier, but he never told anybody.
Ofcourse, he didn't have any medical insurance.
A friend of mine and I had arranged to go see him, but we learned he already passed away before we got the chance to do so...
I think he screwed up with Hans already by that time.

The café was called "'t Leeuwke" longer there either.

I can send you an unfinished documetary about him if you like,filmed by two common friends of us. He died while it was in the making, but it haas been published on a very small scale anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hi...this is Jeff from Vermont...I would love to see your documentary...thank you for the info...I know his studio well and your pics really brought me back...used to have some long talks there...guess Thomas sold that bar...but yes, addy is

thanks for doing this...all the best, Jeff

Anonymous said... the dvd you so graciously sent me here in Vermont...sorry but I lost your is really good and THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking the time to send this to me...all the best, Jeff in Vermont

Anonymous said...

Unknown said...

I did not know Martin Maloney. An ex-wife, Betsy Maloney, was my landlord in the mid 1980's in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She gave me two of his works which I have kept. They are wood wall hangings. Betsy said he was a difficult man and did not stay in touch with him but I recall her being in sporadic but friendly contact with another ex-wife. Anyway, I am pleased to been able to learn more about this artist.

Cynthia Hammond
Buffalo NY