Martin Kippenberger’s art focuses dominantly on the role of the artist within society and the art system.
It is astonishing to realize that up to now Kippenberger has been rarely shown in American museums, but was very present in the gallery scene of the German speaking countries during the 80s and 90s. He always was more a gallery artist – maybe the pace of museums was to slow for his pace.
And his pace was fast. He was travelling often and taking up residences in numerous cities throughout his career: Florence, Berlin, Paris, Cologne, Madrid, Los Angeles, Frankfurt and Vienna. His stationary drawings on various hotel stationary also can be seen in this show.
But Kippenberger was not only travelling very often and partying very hard – in the 20 years of his career he produced a huge work in a wide range of styles, materials and techniques.
He always wanted to become an artist: After failing attempts to become an actor in Italy or to become a poet in France he started his career as a painter.
Later he cultivated this habit of ‘failing’ in his art by producing art that intentionally failed to meet the expectations of the ‘educated’ viewers.
He said to Daniel Baumann 1996 in an interview: ‘During the production of a new work I talk to various people about it. (…) They want to have this and that, they misunderstand this and that; then I hit on this even more to double a real great misconception!’
I think this is one reason why it is very difficult to decode the work of Martin Kippenberger. On the other hand this is also why the art historians love his work so much: His riddles will occupy them for a very long time.
This exhibition is an excellent occasion to study Martin Kippenberger’s work.
Nearly everything is there:
In his early work of 1976 ‘Un di voi, un Tedesco in Firenze’ (‚One of you. A German in Florence’) he was painting a new type of self-portrait during his stay in Florence, Italy.
He attempted to paint every day a picture made after postcards or his own snapshots in a grey/white Gerhard Richter style. The work would have been finished, when the uniform canvases reached the height of his body when piled up. He failed (?) with this project a few inches before reaching his actual height.
His series ‘Dear Painter, Paint for Me’ of 1979 – 1981 was a step further: He took photographs of himself posing as artist in a dandy stile. Then he commissioned an advertising painter, ‘Werner’ to paint these.
In doing so he created a tension between the society’s expectation of the role of an artist and the actual production of a painting. Once asked which artists he would like, he provoked: ‘I feel attracted to artists, who are good looking.’
Kippenberger liked the affordable 70s mass sports car Ford Capri. That led to the installation ‘Capri by Night’ of 1982. He did it together with his artist friend Albert Oehlen.
They coated the car with an ugly orange-brown paint mixed with oat flakes. With this ‘bad art’ they were commenting ironically on the all too serious painting of the German painter star Anselm Kiefer.
There was also the well known painting ‘Likeable Communist Woman’ of 1983: He painted an unconvincingly smiling woman with a uniform cap in an ugly ironic socialist realism style. In doing so he provoked both, the left and the right at the same time.
In 1987 Kippenberger again provoked by buying a monochrome grey painting by the German painter icon Gerhard Richter. He then put on standard metal legs and a frame. That way he transformed it respeclessly into a lounge chair. Going even further he then called the piece of furniture 'Modell Interconti' ('Model Interconti') named after hotels with quite compareable standrad luxury interior.
He really made his fun about the role of the ingenious painter - in this case Richter, whom I consider an excellent artist. Today Richter paintings sometimes have just become a status sybols for uneducated billionairs.
I would like to know how Kippenberger would interact with Demian Hirst's art today: Kippenberger doing a performance swim in a formaldehyde tank?
In the book a young German immigrant arrives at the recruitment center for the so-called Theater of Oklahoma. Kippenberger made various places for job interviews upon a green soccer field floor. It is funny to see this installation at the MoMA’s Atrium when it can easily be mixed up as a part of the museum’s design exhibiton.
Pablo Picasso - THE icon of the modern artist - occupied Kippenberger a lot:
In 1988 he started a series of self-portraits in which he paints himself fat and in white underwear. He refers to photos by David Douglas Duncan of an old Pablo Picasso painting in his underwear.
By the way: Sotheby’s offers in their contemporary art evening sale on 12th May 09 another painting of this series for an estimate of US $ 3,500,000 – 4,500,000.
In the Jacqueline Picasso series of 1996 he goes even further: He casted himself Picasso and paints a series of Picasso’s grieving widow.
These paintings were based upon photos of her taken after Picasso’s death. The subtitle of this series is: ‘The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore.’
One year later Kippenberger himself died in Vienna at the age of 44 from liver cancer.
‘The Beginning was a Retrospective.’ was the title of the first Kippenberger museum exhibition in 1991 in London. This is also true for the first major Kippenberger museum show in the United States. Kippenberger now is getting known to a wider American audience.
After L. A. it is now on view in New York until 11th May 2009.
After carefully reading your - very understandable - review I readjusted my opinion.
Kippenberger is really a trickster.