Jonathan Meese – the haunting German sculptor

I’m going to start this post on Jonathan Meese, whose work I first saw live at North Miami MoCA, which is also the United Stated debut of this survey show, with some quotes from Harald Falckenberg. He is both a major German industrialist, an art book publisher, and an art theorist. Falckenberg also teaches at the Hamburg’s Academy of Fine Arts, which I find to be a most remarkable set of accomplishments.

Jonathan Meese…(grew up) near Hamburg…”

Meese “is one of the few  the artists whom Harald Falckenberg calls a friend. ``He’s a very warm-hearted person. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw his paintings.”

“Meese’s works, with their ironic take on the insanity of heroes and Germanic myths, could be viewed as ugly, and fixated on the dark side of the human soul.”

“I have opted for grotesque art, because when I look around in my world, there are more bad than beautiful things,” Falckenberg says.


Napoleon by Jonathan Meese

“There are many works of Jonathan Meese that I don’t like,” (Falckenberg) says. “But I think they are very interesting.” He is intrigued by what he calls Mr. Meese’s “attitude of escapism.”

All quotes are from Bloomberg Muse.


At first glance this terrifying sculptural works seems to depict the singular insanity of war. The work confronts us with a type of urban guerilla goon as mythological soldier. The work is relentless in its representation of both the executioner and his victim, showing the kneeling figure, who knows his demise is eminent, as reptilian, yet at once showing the creature with the gun as a smaller figure, who without his weapon would lose this battle if it were hand to hand combat.


Jonathan Meese book, The Arch-State of Atlantisis

Jonathan Meese
Meese is fond of playing artistic games that have as their backdrop the history of German terror.  Some have questioned his deepest motivations for doing this. He has responded by saying that by representing evil he is exorcising it from German society, and from the larger world too, if not from German consciousness. I am always struck by my sense that German artists represent their history of being a devastator culture, but seem to find no means to represent their having been crushed because of their actions in World War II.
Jonathan Meese German 20th century military history performance in Amsterdam

Der Kampfer de Large by Jonathan Meese

Meese clearly is entranced by not only German military history, which leads him to construct nightmarish figures that conjure up the true character and personality of his subjects, but he is also equally excited by capturing in meaty sculpture the ruthless persona of European conquest figures such as Napoleon. Meese extends his interest in the phenomenon of unbridled mad militarized and sexualized force in his sculpture of Zeus and other mythic figures.
Suzy Wong.jpg
Suzy Wong by Jonathan Meese. Like his Dr. No sculpture, this work reflects Germany’s intense interest in Hollywood.
One of the elements which strikes me most about these sculptures is their being created using 19th century sculpture, which for me metaphorically sets each of these figures in the late 19th century, despite some of them coming from as far back as ancient Greek civilization, as in the case of Zeus. Both the technique, green patina and the materials used to produce these massive, larger than life  works, which certainly point to their relationship to the history of European sculpture, particularly that of Rodin, as they address the German imagination.
Brussels 2007 030.jpg
Dr. No by Jonathan Meese

a mythological being by Jonathan Meese

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.

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