J.V. Martin: Something is Rotten in the State of Everything Everywhere

May 20th - July 9th

Tif Sigfrids is thrilled to announce an exhibition of works by the late Danish painter J. V. Martin at its New York gallery on 75 East Broadway. The show will open with a reception on Friday, May 20th from 4-6 PM and remain on view through July 9th. This is the gallery’s first presentation of Martin’s work and the artist’s first solo exhibition in the US.

J. V. Martin (b. 1930 d. 1993) lived and worked in the provincial town of Randers, Denmark, a four-hour train ride from Copenhagen. Despite the remoteness of his locale Martin was firmly connected to one of the most important movements in art and critical theory in postwar Europe. Martin was admitted to the Situationist International (SI) at a moment when every other artist in the group had either been pressured to resign or was soon to be excluded by decree. The Situationists had grown wary of art’s usefulness to their project of societal disruption. However, rather than abandoning art completely, they redirected their energy toward an “anti-Situationist” art that revolved around the destruction of art objects and substitution of games for conventional art media.

Martin was integral to the development of this “anti-Situationist” art. His 1963 exhibition “Destruction of the RSG-6” included white canvases on which Guy Debord had painted Situationist slogans; relief paintings by Michèle Bernstein in which the Situationist writer reimagined the history of class struggle as one of proletarian victory; a shooting range, in which the audience was encouraged to use portraits of world leaders for target practice; and Martin’s own “Thermonuclear Cartographies,” a series of large canvases in which he used hair, scrap metal, and rotting cheese to envisage the alteration of familiar topographies by nuclear war.

Most of these works were destroyed in 1965 when a bomb rumored to have been planted by the Danish secret service exploded in Martin’s apartment. Yet Martin continued his “anti-Situationist” art practice in his series of “Golden Fleet” paintings commenced in 1968 from which the current exhibition includes a rare early example. Incorporating thick layers of gold paste, plastic models of warships, and comic strips, the Golden Fleet paintings suggest a war game in which the forces of playfulness (of which Martin imagined himself the admiral) is deployed against capitalist imperialism.

At the same time, Martin continued to make paintings reminiscent of those created by the Cobra movement between 1948 and 1951. Cobra was a part of the DNA of Situationism that Debord had always sought to distance himself from. Martin’s Cobra- style paintings, of which the forthcoming exhibition includes several key examples, not only call into question the idea of an “anti-Situationist” art. They bring to the fore Situationism’s fraught relationship to the avant-garde art tradition on which it was modeled. For all but a few brief moments, J.V. Martin’s Scandinavian section of the SI was a movement of one. Nevertheless, Martin vehemently opposed Debord’s dissolution of the SI in 1972 and continued to call himself a Situationist until his death in 1993.

Works by J. V. Martin were included in the 1989 exhibition “On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time” touring the Musée National d’Art Moderne Centre Pompidou in Paris, Institute of Contemporary Art London, and Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. Works by Martin were also included in the 2017 exhibition “Tous contre le spectacle” at the Arsenale Institute for the Politics of Representation in Venice, Italy and in the 2018 exhibition “The Most Dangerous Game” at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. Martin’s work has been the subject of two retrospective exhibitions at Randers Kunstmuseum in 2007 and Møstings Hus in Copenhagen in 2021. In 2014 Sternberg Press published a monographic study of J. V. Martin’s life and work from 1962 to 1972 by art historian Mikkel Bolt.

The exhibition includes a section of historic documents. It is curated by Niels Henriksen, an art historian who recently defended his PhD on the art and archaeology of Asger Jorn.