Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Martin Kippenberger by Pavlo Chubinskiy

I became interested in Martin Kippenberger after seeing his work featured in the arts section of The New York Times. After briefly seeing his work there, I searched for him online and was intrigued by the odd and bold images that resulted. They looked to be influenced by canonical art history and modern masters, yet had strange reversals of traditional forms unlike what I’ve encountered before. Some looked to be fluid and contorted at once, like Schiele or Matisse’s work. Others had an aspect of darkness or decadence to them, evoking Francis Bacon. These were just the works that took the artist as their subject—there was much more to say about the various other works in different mediums. I liked this sort of variety, and how, in looking at one of the pieces, I could feel a respite from daily worries while also enjoying both the composition and how it problematized the very content. Considering the aspects of his work that seem odd or have a paradoxical relationship, it’s no surprise that one of the major retrospectives of his work wound up being called The Problem Perspective.

 Martin Kippenberger was born in Dortmund, Germany, in 1953, and led a prolific but brief career until his death in Vienna, Austria in 1997 at the age of forty-four. In 1972 he studied art at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Hamburg, Germany. Thereafter Kippenberger traveled the world and had an output in many mediums, including paintings, found objects, installations, multiples, books, posters, and cards. Throughout his career he had worked in Berlin, Florence, New York, and Rio de Janiero. Kippenberger’s drive to produce novel work and attitude that no subject matter was quite sacred led to his fame as an artist and individual—he once declared in anticipation of the later reception his work that he was the ultimate embodiment of the art of the 1980s. There was substance to Kippenberger’s declaration as well: he drew on a variety of movements and philosophies in addition to mediums, including New Wave, Neo-Expressionism, pop art, old masters, and appropriation art. His oeuvre draws on everything accessible to the life of the individual in society, and even channels it through such that it often focuses on the artist in particular. Thus Kippenberger became increasingly well known for his ironic treatment of the artist in society as well as for the art process, canonical art history, and other artists. His prodigious output and limitless approach was slowed by his alcoholism, and he ultimately died of cancer. Kippenberger’s critical thinking about and tongue-in-cheek engagement with the position of the artist in society is evident in many of his works. In this piece, from the series Dear Painter, Paint For Me, is shown a picture of a man, happening to be Kippenberger himself, which was painted from an original photograph form. A poster-painter named “Werner,” who Kippenberger later reinvents as “Werner Kippenberger”, signs the painting. Central to the production of this piece is Kippenberger’s notion of selection as being the core of producing artwork. He chose to have a poster-painter paint the work for him, yet it portrays not just anyone but the actual artist, Martin Kippenberger himself, sitting on a trashed sofa in the middle of New York. Kippenberger’s choice to sit precisely in this way for a self-portrait photograph reinforces the notion of choosing to do art in a way that is contrary to tradition because of how unusual the location for the sitter is. The three reversals that riddle this process and finished product are also what add up to the ultimate irony, that the focus of the work is in the end not just on the selections of any artist, but Kippenberger himself. In this way he achieves a respectful yet jocular distance in casting the position of the artist in society. In this, completed in Los Angeles, is one of a Fred the Frog series done in 1988-91, in which Kippenberger takes a picture of the struggling artist, here represented by a frog, and combines it with others such that the semiotic connotation of the final piece is conflicted. The cross can be interpreted as connoting sacrifice, and the frog something blasphemous, but Kippenberger’s dunce-like frog with a coffee mug in hand and an egg in the other (harkening to some of his other work involve eggs and eggmen, a trope for the artist as well as a reference to the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”) ends up being more of a synthesis of the two with an ironic twist, since the artist thus becomes one who has to both provide for the renewal of the collective condition through his or her work, yet in individual practice is far from a messiah, with the final message being both respectful and wry, since the artist himself transmits it not literally but through art. The same kind of engagement can be found in continuations featuring similar tropes, inverses such as The Modern House of Believing or Not, featuring the Guggenheim museum in a sardonic take asking just how much of a society is in the scope of art, or series of pieces focusing on the artist in other ways. In this piece from 1988, Kippenberger also takes the artist as his subject, though now drawing upon his knowledge of art history. Here he appears discontented in his underwear in the image of Picasso. By drawing on the figure of Picasso and yet also rendering him akin to Kippenberger himself, Kippenberger implicates the artist in the work. Although self-portraits were in some sense exhausted at this point in time, Kippenberger revived the genre, but in so doing also portrayed himself in a manner unlike traditionally staid and elegant self-portraiture. This reversal again puts the onus on the artist to portray people in some more essential manner in the age of media, but such that the artist himself, his position as artist, and how that position has been inherited are endowed with a heavy ordinariness.


 Kippenberger, Martin, Ann Goldstein, Diedrich Diederichsen, and Jutta Koether. Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective. Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008. Print.

 Kippenberger, Martin, Doris Krystof, and Jessica Morgan. Martin Kippenberger. London: Tate, 2006.

Print. http://www.artnet.com/artists/martin-kippenberger/

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