An Analysis of the Character of Michael Munding’s Work
To classify Michael Munding as a painter, even a realistic painter, or a sculptor in the usual sense would not be appropriate because his work evades classification. Indeed, his work soon erraises the question whether it should even be considered part of the realm of art or the endeavor of an artist.
An important description of what he does would likely state the fact that his work is the realistic depiction of nothing unusual—things that can be found without even looking-, but that would confine it to just one level. At first glance what seems to be a simple, though saliant, quality with Munding is actually the result of complex reflexions upon human perception. Principle permeates his practice and he paints replicas of facsimiles. In other words, he copies imitations, paints the portrait of things so preselected and common that there’s no personal feeling left in them at all. Only the slight changes in scale, always enlargements, and the tiny modifications that suggest some private purpose of the artist, provide clues that Munding products are made by hand. That objects normally produced by machine like vacation ephemera and decorations can become original objects for imitation by a do-it-yourselfer is at the heart of Munding’s deliberations. His concept of workmanship seems founded upon a bottomless and constant need to reassure himself beyond a doubt that in an omnipotent world of regulation and standardization man can still arrange his surroundings to suit himself. Thus, in solitary manual labour he attains the appearance of perfection through an all-consuming process: investing an enormous amount of time and technical virtuosity while avoiding any trace of handwork. He paints his picture postcards with small brushes and lustruous colors on primed copperplates and then gives them several coats of shellack and a good polishing. For motifs and models he employs photographs, postcards and newspaper pictures, which, when duplicated in paint, convey an impression of reality at least as valid as that conveyed by the models themselves. Just as ironically as in exorably, Munding pursues the Re-Vision of a platonic idea about art: in the making of perfect, handcrafted reproductions (of reproductions..) it would be possible to regain an unprefabricated reality.
A further result of Munding’s reflections upon perception is his treatment of the surface: a high gloss shine turns it into a looking glass that throws the onlooker back, partially, upon himself. this effectively allows him to experience an awakening of the sense to beauty, and it occurs only after the work of art has been identified as the work of an artist and the onlooker has engaged himself in a dialogue. Thus, if it doesn’t involve the onlooker’s perception of himself, the perception of even the most realistic of picture-objects is faulty. If the onlooker is irritated by anything at all, it would likely be by the choice of motivs. These inevitably pose questions about the limits of taste that contain “art“.
Work, for Munding is not primarily the planned production of pieces for exhibition. In an era that makes a fetish of the art market, he would rather make art ”usable“ and even make some spheres of life unthinkable without it. For this reason, he chooses motivs whose power to stimulate the emotions is irresistable. When the leisure time, vacation and adventure industries use photographs to create illusions that often have nothing in common with reality, and when people snap blindly at such bait, then Munding’s mimicry of such illusions catches in a subversive way the social progress of repression. Don’t plastic trees in stuffy and sterile supermarkets encourage people to breath easier for a moment? And don’t presumably responsible animal lovers decorate their appartments with easy-to-care-for porcelaine fauna? Outstanding about Munding’s position as an artist are the drastic means he employs. Ultimately these are acts of compensation, which in the face of the likely failure of human doings, take an almost perverse form in performance— handcrafting one and only copies of mass-produced consumer items originally intended to help spread the spirit of optimism. To try to preserve fields of reality one by one by embalming each in shellack is practically absurd, but with Munding it has become a mania to rescue disappearing reality.Whether it be the counterfeit reality of nature as it steadily falls back on the defensive or the emotionally charged reality of personal memories that have become stereotyped—to try to restore is to create reality. In this attempt, a sin an act of pure creation, a new mini- cosmos originates and grows day by day. This endeavour, this “wanting-to-paint-the-picture-of-everything“ and the futility of it so typical of the times, is tantamount to, and therefore best classified as, pure Sisyphusphenomenon.
Jean Rosenheim 1995, translated by Winston Kelley