Mark Manders

Mark Manders

Although time and place-related references appear to be irrelevant in Manders’ work, there is one year that is often being referred to: 1986. This is the year in which Manders (Vonkel, 1968) outlined the concept of his work, Self-Portrait as a Building. His work resembles a fictional building, divided into separate rooms and levels, of which the size and shape can never exactly be determined. Potential shifts and extensions constantly threaten the cohesion of the ever-expanding self-portrait. Manders works toward one big overarching moment that will bring together all his works, continuously interconnected and in dialogue with each other. There is no beginning or end. It is impossible to organize or date his works chronologically on the basis of visual clues. His work, in this way, might as well be created in the early 20th century; a thought he seems to eagerly embrace.
Mark Manders, Inhabited for a Survey (First Floor Plan from Self-Portrait as a Building), 1986 / writing materials, erasers, painting tools, scissors / 8 x 267 x 90 cm / Art Institute of Chicago (gift by Donna and Howard Stone)
Before Manders embarked on his artistic career, he worked, as a teenager, in a graphic design studio. This is where his fascination for design and language, and particularly poetry, originated. Attempting to write a self-portrait in an unconventional manner, he soon hit the boundaries of language and translation. Words were substituted by visual elements. According to Manders, drawings, sculptures and installations are freer and can, just like poetry, incorporate different sounds, colours, rhythms, rhymes and interpretations. This is how the idea of Self-Portrait as a Building arose. Manders strives for timelessness and universality by using archetypal forms and familiar-looking materials such as clay, steel and wood. Manders’ sculptures and installations seem more fragile than they actually are. As a sculptor, Manders adheres to the tradition of bronze sculpture yet also incorporates contemporary materials in his work. Seats, chairs, chimneys are carefully created or recreated in function of the work and, where necessary, reduced to 88% of their original size. Blurring the line between reality and illusion, it often becomes difficult to distinguish when Manders is actually integrating natural wood or just a painted wood imitation. This also applies to the androgynous figures or faces that seem to have been fashioned out of wet clay, creating the impression that they just left the artist's studio or, conversely, were abandoned by the artist, mid-work. The illusion of peeling dry clay creates a sense of foreboding, as if the sculpture could crumble into fine dust and disappear at any time. There appears to be a definite separation between the sculpture and the person who realized it, as if it was abandoned by its creator or could not be completed. The persona of Mark Manders is never recognizably evidenced. Remarkable also is the dichotomy between the man Mark Manders and the artist, who, like an alter ego of sorts, seems to be directed entirely by his counterpart. Manders always places himself in this undefined place in-between, vastly enlarging the mystery of Self-Portrait as a Building.
Mark Manders in his studio, next to the work Composition with Four Yellow Verticals, 2017-2019/ painted bronze, iron, wood / 266 x 391 x 419 cm / 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan - Photo © 2024 Simon Bultynck

Exhibition History

In 2019 Public Art Fund commissioned Mark Manders to create a large public sculpture for the Doris C. Freedman Plaza in Central Park, New York. He also created large outdoor sculptural installations for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2017) and for the Rokin Square in Amsterdam (2017).  

Mark Manders recently had two solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art (in Tokyo 2021) and a duo exhibition with Michaël Borremans at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa (2020). He also had solo shows at Bonnefanten in Maastricht (2020), at Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea in Santiago de Compostela (2014), Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia (2014), De Vleeshal in Middelburg (2014), Carré d’Art – Musée d’art contemporain in Nîmes (2012), IMMA in Dublin (2005), The Art Institute in Chicago (2003), The Renaissance Society in Chicago (2003), Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich (2003), amongst many others. His solo show ‘Parallel Occurences / Documented Assignments’ travelled from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2010) to the Aspen Art Museum in Aspen (2011), Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2011) and Dallas Museum of Art (2012). ‘The Absence of Mark Manders’ toured from Kunstverein Hannover (2007) to Kunsthall Bergen (2008), S.M.A.K. in Ghent (2008) and Kunsthaus Zürich (2009).  

Manders participated in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (2019), the Fondazione Prada in Milan (2018), Museu Berardo in Lisbon (2018), MARTa Herford (2017), Wiels in Brussels (2017), Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar (2016), Kunstmuseum Bonn (2016), the Louvre in Paris (2015), S.M.A.K. in Ghent (2015), Guggenheim Museum in New York (2015), Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2014), 21er Haus in Vienna (2014), The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford (2012), the Menil Collection in Houston (2012), David Roberts Arts Foundation in London (2012), MoMA in New York (2012), ICA in Philadelphia (2011), DESTE Foundation in Athens (2011), Kunsthalle Bern (2010), amongst many others.

In 2013 Manders represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennial. He was also included in the Ateliers de Rennes (2016), Athens Biennial (2007), Manifesta (2004) and the Venice Biennial (2001).