Martin Kippenberger’s Provocative Abstract Color Universe

 In this painting there is a tremendous display of color sensibility that points to Matisse. It shows a delicate, sensitive man who in this hour was also seeking a moment of pure confidence while dressed so provocatively. Upon inspecting his works, there is a definite turn toward abstraction and explorations into the power of color in his paintings and his installations. Even where a human figure is represented, what often dominates in terms of the paintings organizing logic is based upon the formation of a large painted abstract surface. It is as if Kippenberger was both enthralled by abstraction yet equally desirous at several times of producing a metaphysical representational image. And there is a drive toward the decorative, as seen in the patchwork colors on the sculpture of a boat just below. When a human image does appear it is always in isolation in the depicted space, even when it is shown in a state of happiness or enjoyment, or in several instances, what would be embarrassment as Kippenberger paints a man wearing only underwear or with his pants down to his ankles.


Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.

Martin Kippenberger – Artist and Provocateur

A bad painter?

“Kippenberger was born on February 25, 1953, in Dortmund. He dropped out of the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. He always suffered after that from the fact that he hadn’t got any proper qualification as an artist. People were always telling him that he was a bad painter.”

  • International connection

    Martin Kippenberger – Artist and Provocateur

    International connection

    “As well as paintings, he also created installations, such as the “Sozialkistentransporter” (“Transporter for Social Boxes”) which he made for an exhibition in Cologne in 1989. Cologne was only one of a number of cities in which he worked: In addition to Berlin, he lived in Graz, Los Angeles, Madrid, Syros, Tokyo and Vienna.”



In this painting by Kippenberger, I am reminded of Basquiat’s similarly haunting painting of him riding death. Here Kippenberger is both dead and alive at once; the live half in command of its own experience, while the reality of the afterlife for every human is mirrored in this startling portrait of life and afterlife. Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.



There is a Max Beckmann-like use of black strokes and marks in this painting by Kippenberger. The strange architecture represented is seemingly a bad dream version of the Guggenheim museum. The building seems to be resting on a bed of ice, isolated from the world. An ominous, bat-like cloud loomed in the blue sky. Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.




These paintings above in some ways remind me of the 1980’s works of David Salle, especially in their disjointed depictions and use of both representational and abstract vocabularies that often overlap. In two of these ten paintings Kippenberger is far more sexually blunt however, and the collage effects of the image placement also obscure as well as forefront certain images as they demand greater attention. I also see some of the influence of LA artist Raymond Pettibone in the focus on popular culture and cartoon cartography.

Kippenberger’s paintings are both narrative and abstract, symbol-laden and . They seem to share some of the vital strangeness of Neo Rauch’s pictorial universe.
I was not aware of Kippenberger having such a fixation of representing himself in his underwear. Perhaps this was his way of reconciling masculine bravado by depicting himself as partially subordinated to infantile yearnings. Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.

Alex Rotter describing "Untitled" self-portrait by Martin Kippenberger


Alex Rotter, Head of Contemporary Art New York, Sotheby’s, with Lot 7, “Untitled,” by Martin Kippenberger, 1988, oil on canvas, 94 1/2 by 78 1/4 inchesLot 7, “Untitled,” by Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) is a self-portrait painted in 1988 that was based on David Douglas Duncan’s famous photograph of Picasso in his swimming trunks. At a press preview, Alex Rotter explained that Kippenberger had wanted to be the world’s greatest painter but here he has donned Picasso’s garb but depicts himself rather unflatteringly, reflecting probably that his quest will not succeed. It sold for $4,114,500, an auction record for the artist who is the subject of a major exhibition now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Candidature for a Retrospective by Martin Kippenberger

Boys Will Be Boys by Martin Kippenberger
Kippenberger’s LA MoCA retrospective showed paintings that depicted figures in a real world space – whether indoors or out, and that also displayed an interest in formally resolving an abstract picture. Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles.


·Martin Kippenberger at L.A. MOCA Martin Kippenberger at L. A. MOCA …

Kippenberger’s LA MoCA retrospective.
Alkoholfolter by Martin Kippenberger
·Martin Kippenberger, ‘Rent Electricity Gas’ 1986
·Martin Kippenberger

4326 x 2224 · 1669 kB · jpeg·Martin Kippenberger at L.A. MOCA Martin Kippenberger at L. A. MOCA …


New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos Suite 2012-2013


New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos Suite 2012-2013

Here are three new paintings are added to my Cosmos Suite of paintings 2.24.2013. These are the 7th, 8th and 9th paintings created in the Cosmos Suite. They are also the 4th, 5th and 6th large scale paintings in this body of work.These Cosmos Suite paintings are created using various experiments in media and paint application. Johnson has done substantial research into the area of the history of painting materials and there use, and employs this knowledge in the production of his work.

There are now a total of nine paintings in the Cosmos Suite. Six of the nine paintings are thirty by forty inches in size. Three of the paintings – the originals in the suite, are twenty by twenty four inches in size. Each painting takes about a month to create as there is a three week drying time between the first and second layers of the painting. As the suite grows there will be additional sizes including larger works.


Cosmos Suite: A Meeting Between Two Figures in Space

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)

with  matisse.artcatCosmos Suite: State and Grace – final – complete 2.25.2013

30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)


 Cosmos Suite: Astral Melodies
30×40 inches, oil on canvas by Vincent Johnson in Los Angeles (2013)
Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.

Vincent Johnson received his MFA in Fine Art Painting from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California 1997 and his BFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was selected for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 for the Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 2010 he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art Slant and many other publications. His photographic works were most recently shown in the inaugural Pulse Fair Los Angeles. His most recent paintings were shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles. His 2010 photo project – California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch, is in exhibition at Another Year in LA gallery in West Hollywood through early March 2013. His work has appeared in several venues, including The Studio Museum in Harlem (Freestyle (2001, The Philosophy of Time Travel, 2007, and The Bearden Project, 2011-2012), PS1 Museum, Queens, NY, SK Stiftung, Cologne, Germany, Santa Monica Museum of Art, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Boston University Art Museum, Kellogg Museum, Cal Poly Pomona.
Below are some of the other paintings I have completed since returning to painting in the summer of 2011.
Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

New Abstract Paintings: The Cosmos suite (2012)

Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings

California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida). I provided this image as I realized its clear similarity to Golden Dream, which I completed a week ago in my studio in Los Angeles.

Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, Oil on canvas, 30×40 inches


Art Review | Martin Kippenberger

Live Hard, Create Compulsively, Die Young

Patrick Andrade for The New York Times

Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective “Spider-Man Studio” is part of this wide-ranging retrospective opening at MoMA on Sunday. More Photos »

Published: February 26, 2009

The career of the German artist Martin Kippenberger, who died in 1997 at 44, was a brief, bold, foot-to-the-floor episode of driving under the influence. What was he high on? Alcohol, ambition, disobedience, motion, compulsive sociability, history and art in its many forms.


Patrick Andrade for The New York Times

“The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika,’ ” a 1994 Kippenberger installation in the MoMA atrium. More Photos »

Art in its many forms was what he made — specifically paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, prints, posters, books — all in madly prolific quantities. In every sense he took up a lot of space. And he continues to do so at the Museum of Modern Art, where his first — and excellent — American retrospective, “Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective,” is spilling out of top-floor galleries and down into the atrium.

Kippenberger was born in 1953 in Dortmund. His father was a businessman; his mother, who died in a car accident in 1976, a doctor. He dropped out of school in his early teens, hit the road and never stopped. He lived in communes, did drugs, did therapy, studied window display, attended then quit art school.

He wanted to be an actor. (He said he looked like “Helmut Berger on a good day.”) Only after failing to break into films did he focus on art. And as an artist he was a performer, an entertainer, a provoker, as he was in life. At punk bars and biennials he was the juiced-up guy who made scintillating speeches, picked stupid fights and periodically dropped his pants. He was the same person in his art.

He produced many self-portraits, and several are in the MoMA show, which has been organized by Ann Goldstein of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture.

In a 1981 photorealist painting he’s a matinee idol lounging on a discarded sofa beside a Manhattan street. (The picture is actually a self-portrait once removed: he hired an artist to paint it.) We see him a few years later in a photograph as a kind of sissy frontier scout wearing a fuzzy sweater and riding a too-small horse in what looks like the American Southwest.

With a series of 1988 paintings comes a change: no more young and svelte. Instead he’s a paunchy, pugnacious middle-aged Picasso in boxer shorts. And from this point on the line between self-depiction and self-debasement blurs. It’s hard to know what to make of a sculptural portrait of the artist as a crucified cartoon frog, a tiny beer stein dangling from his hand. (Pope Benedict XVI called a version of the piece in an Italian collection blasphemous.)

The artist as Spider-Man trying to bust out of his studio would seem more upbeat — if the superhero weren’t a skeletal, see-through being with a mask for a face. Finally, in 1996, Kippenberger drew himself posed as the doomed figures in Géricault’s painting “Raft of the Medusa.” Many artists have done old-man self-portraits. Kippenberger was doing dead-man self-portraits.

And, characteristically, he was doing them with a rash verve that marked his whole career. Right from the start he understood that as an artist he was appearing on the scene at the end of a drama rather than at the beginning. By the time he arrived, the defining impulses of late-20th-century art — Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Neo-Expressionism — were old. So were the political ideologies like Socialism and Communism, and the utopianism of the 1960s, which, for better and worse, had shaped the world he knew.

Seemingly all that remained were leftover styles and ideas; bit parts and walk-ons. Kippenberger didn’t buy this. He knew that there are no small parts, only timid actors, and that with the right spices scraps make a great meal. In other words, he knew he had to take what was there, including the diminished role of the artist, and make something different, and large, and loud from it, and he did.

He turned his work into a late-modernist clearinghouse in which familiar styles, careers and ideas could be re-evaluated, pulled apart, rejected or recombined. He made his painting a database of art and ideas that he loved and despised: Socialist Realism, Picasso, Picabia, Nazi propaganda, punk, Pop, Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke and consumer culture, as well as concepts like progress, originality, consistency, success and failure.

He customized Neo-Expressionism, hot in Germany in the 1980s, into a klutzy, jokey style, all flat-footed brushwork and snide asides. He made figure painting, popular for its accessibility, hard to read. Was the image of the smiling fräulein in his “Likeable Communist Woman” a sendup or a nostalgic sigh?

He hammered away at abstraction. He gave an ostensibly nonpolitical geometric composition of black, red and yellow bars a bomb of a title: “With the Best Will in the World I Can’t See a Swastika.” He questioned the notion of abstraction as a transcendent medium by offering an all-white painting that sprouted a pair of latex feet.

He suggested that painting as a form, while useful, was overrated. To test the response he bought a small gray 1972 monochrome painting by Gerhard Richter, fitted it with metal legs and turned it into a coffee table, which became by default a sculpture and original Kippenberger. The response was strong.

He went further in an exploratory direction with sculpture, his breakthrough coming in 1987 with the debut of the “Peter” sculptures, “peter” being his term for objects that fit no known descriptive category.

The two dozen such sculptures clustered in the show are made from pieces of found furniture or industrial hardware to which additions or tweaks have been made. Shipping pallets become playpens (his mother died when pallets slid off a truck and hit her car), a steel loading cart is equipped with briefcases; a designer chair is elevated on a pedestal; a set of shelves on wheels hold bananas preserved in resin. It’s fun to scan them for references to artists like Richard Artschwager and Reinhard Mucha, or to think of them as a reproach to Donald Judd’s self-importantly pristine carpentry. And it’s nice to know that many “peters” were actually made by a longtime Kippenberger assistant, Michael Krebber, who now has a substantial career of his own.

Most important, though, is to see how a complex, theatrical, and new-feeling art can be made from ideas and materials already there. The grand demonstration of this phenomenon is the installation called “The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika,’ ” which fills the MoMA atrium.

Kafka’s novel was unfinished when he died, the narrative breaking off after its protagonist has arrived in the United States from Germany and has been taken for an interview at what purports to be a job agency for immigrants. In Kippenberger’s directorial hands the agency becomes a combination office, casino and sports arena, with dozens of sculpturally reconfigured tables and chairs on a sheet of green cloth the size of a basketball court.

It’s an exhilarating spectacle, as tough and daft as Kakfa’s book. (Don’t miss the overhead view from the sixth floor.) Like much of Kippenberger’s art it looks at first haphazard and slapdash, but isn’t. Every element has been carefully shaped and placed.

To see how fanatically detail minded Kippenberger could be, you need only look at drawings he did on hotel stationery picked up on his ceaseless trips and relocations. Some sheets hold diagrammatic plans for projects, others highly polished images in watercolor and ink: self-portraits, sexual fantasies, landscapes, cartoon vignettes. They could be by a dozen hands and brains, and that was just the look Kippenberger wanted: multitasking, data gathering, beyond the bogus authority of genre, taste and style.

Drawings for “The Raft of the Medusa” were among the last things he did. In a photograph of him posing as one of Géricault’s figures, he flings arms beseechingly, operatically open, as if to hit a high note, or catch a tossed bouquet. This is Martin the actor, the unembarrassable clown.

Physically, though, he looks awful; bloated and haggard, a big sick baby, a wreck. He had been self-destructing for years, but rather than pull back he kept stepping on the gas. Soon after the photo was taken he died of liver cancer, or cirrhosis, depending on who you read.

If messy and raucous aren’t your thing, and tidy objects are, Kippenberger is not for you. Sometimes when I come up against his drunk-and-disorderly divahood I think he’s not for me. But he is, absolutely, or the idea of him is, meaning the model he sets for what an artist can be and do. His multitudinous recyclings, insubordinate temperament and generosity seem unexpectedly right for a non-party-time time. With the MoMA respective a new generation of artists will get to know him. I can imagine more than a few hitching themselves to his manic star.

“Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective” opens on Sunday and runs through May 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, (212) 708-9400,

A version of this review appeared in print on February 27, 2009, on page C23 of the New York edition with the headline: Live Hard, Create Compulsively, Die Young.


Modern art is rubbish

… at least, that’s what Martin Kippenberger thought. He would mock other artists, and throw his own work in a skip. But there was more to this enfant terrible than meets the eye, says Adrian Searle

Martin Kippenberger's Please Don't Send Me Home

‘I am a travelling salesman’ … Martin Kippenberger’s Please Don’t Send Me Home. Photograph: © Tate Modern

A little kid toddles away under a blue sky, bare-bottomed, free of his shoes and nappies, and without a care in the world. This scruffily painted scene is set inside a painted border on which is written: “For a life without a dentist.” Like death and taxes, pain is inevitable. The kid is heading straight for trouble.

This intimation of what life has in store makes us smile, and so does the futile wish that comes with it. The painting is cruel and funny, and the way it has been executed is stumbling and tragicomic. We could take this 1984 work by Martin Kippenberger as “bad painting”, but what it actually does is maintain a precarious balance between faux-innocence, wistful longing and slapstick cynicism. This is how much of Kippenberger’s work feels, pitching itself between optimism and pain, the laughable and a toothache.

Born in 1953, Kippenberger was dead at 44, a handsome man run to fat and gone to seed. He was a child who was always walking away and always heading into trouble. In 1983 he made a cardboard sign that said Please Don’t Send Me Home, hanging it around his neck on a bit of string. Later, he painted himself wearing it, like a forlorn adult child waiting to be evacuated somewhere by the kindertransport. Kippenberger was forever homesick and sick of home.

Accused of neo-Nazi attitudes by a German critic in the late 1980s, he made several mannequin sculptures of himself, called Martin, Into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself, placed facing the wall. As with the humour in Maurizio Cattelan’s sculptures, there is a detectable thread of revulsion that runs through Kippenberger’s work. It is a revulsion that is at once directed at the art world (in which he was a consummate player), at postwar German culture, at the pieties of other artists, at the meaninglessness of most art (of which his own work can be seen as a parodic example), and at himself. One way out was to make his art even more meaningless, more stupid and obvious and dumb than everyone else’s.

The paradox was that he worked tirelessly, and was fizzing with ideas and wayward energy. He made enormous numbers of paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, posters and books. He collected art, set up clothing companies and nightclubs, and ran art-world scams. He was a great improviser. Since his death in 1997, there have been more than 20 solo shows of his work, and this Tate Modern exhibition, which will travel to Düsseldorf, is the second Kippenberger retrospective I have written about in the past two years (the last was in the Netherlands).

Kippenberger is often regarded as an antidote to Joseph Beuys. Beuys thought everyone was an artist. Kippenberger titled a painting Every Artist a Human Being; it showed an artist crucified over an easel. He made several horrible portraits of Beuys’s mother. While Beuys used fat, and Sigmar Polke invoked Higher Beings and magic mushrooms in his art, Kippenberger titled one of his own works Painted Under the Influence of Spaghetti No 7. Which is not to avoid the fact that Polke’s 1960s paintings are one of Kippenberger’s models for his own work.

All this might sound a throwaway art of cheap one-liners, produced by a self-appointed enfant terrible who revelled in ham-fistedness. This is both true and false. Kippenberger’s whole career was a peripatetic stumble from one place to another. If his art was rueful, bitter, sardonic, annoying, funny, ebullient and affecting, Kippenberger himself was loud, braying, often drunk, alternately aggressive and courteous, sensitive, intelligent and boorish. He inspired great loyalties and made lots of enemies.

He was a contradiction, an iconoclast who invented chaos about him – much in the Werner Fassbinder mode – yet insisted on lunch at 12 “on the dot!” and an afternoon nap at 3pm. He didn’t think anything new could be done in art, but his originality couldn’t help shining through. He was at the centre of his art, always acting a part, playing a role. “I am a travelling salesman,” he insisted. “I deal in ideas” – even if those ideas were not his own. Who owns an idea anyway? It is where you take it that counts.

Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth had the idea of carving holes through their figures. In 1985 Kippenberger made arresting, ghastly painted polystyrene versions of these and called the ensemble Hunger Family. An obvious gag, but the holes yawn back at you with a horrible wit.

There is an early 1980s painting of the artist that shows him looking relaxed and suave in his suit, sitting on a sofa. He appears oblivious, or unconcerned, that the sofa has been dumped on a New York street corner, among a heap of garbage bags. This is from the series Dear Painter, Paint for Me. Kippenberger supplied the photos, and got a Berlin sign painter to produce the photorealist paintings. The artist, then, elegant amid the rubbish. In the 1990s, he got his British assistant, Merlin Carpenter, to make a series of paintings for him. Dissatisfied, Kippenberger destroyed them and dumped them in a home-made skip, which then became the work, surrounded by photos of the canvases before their destruction. This was his idea of quality control. “I am not an easel-kisser,” he once quipped.

However, for all their quick-fix wonkiness and clownishness, his paintings – where he painted them himself – are better than they look, and show a talent intent on self-sabotage. Weirdly, he had a great touch, and was a wonderful draughtsman, even when he was drawing a self-portrait in which he hammered nails up his nostrils. Many of his drawings are made on hotel stationery and bar bills, lending the impression that he swanned between the world’s five-star luxury suites. In fact, he never stayed in half those places. But he did keep on the move, to Spain, Brazil, California – renting and furnishing apartments, then producing shows to pay for it all. In some ways, he lived an old-fashioned bohemian life.

Nowadays, Kippenberger is unavoidable. Wherever you go, he keeps turning up, although he held only one solo exhibition in London while he was alive. Tate curator Jessica Morgan’s catalogue essay puts this down to what she sees as London’s ignorance of Kippenberger during his lifetime. This is not true, any more than it is the case that London has ignored other artists in Kippenberger’s circle, such as Michael Krebber and Georg Herold. There was a great deal of traffic between London, Cologne and Berlin during the 1980s and 90s. Maybe there wasn’t enough money to be made in London for Kippenberger, so he stayed away. What Morgan perceives as London’s supposed insularity and ignorance of developments in German art in the past two decades is wrong-headed, and does both her readers and her own otherwise careful appraisal of Kippenberger a disservice.

The best essay here is by Kippenberger’s younger sister, Susanne. She describes her brother as a romantic who “wanted a Happy End”. This short memoir is very moving. Kippenberger even wanted to supply a happy ending to Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, Amerika. The Kippenberger solution took the form of a sprawling installation, which provides the high point of the Tate Modern retrospective. An arrangement of about 50 chairs and tables stands on a green mat imprinted with the lines of a football pitch. The assorted furniture – including 20th-century design classics, chairs and tables “adapted” by other artists as well as refashioned by Kippenberger himself – is arranged as though for interviews. In Kafka’s novel, the protagonist applies for a job advertised at “the biggest theatre in the world”. “Whoever wants to become an artist should sign up,” the advert invites.

Kippenberger’s desks and chairs are implausible, uncomfortable settings, each a sculptural tableau in its own right. There are Eames chairs and Jacobsens, a table set with jars of body parts (on which filmed talking heads by artist Tony Ousler are projected), chairs set with African carvings, desks with Kippenberger’s own paintings stashed underneath, a metal table rimed in thick paint and gloopy silicon. Standing amid it all are rickety, concentration-camp-style watchtowers and a lifeguard’s tower. Unfortunately, viewers won’t be able to wander within the installation, but will have to be content to observe from the stadium bleachers at either side, like spectators at the big game.

Most alarming of all are the motorised ejector seats that whir perilously around a circular track, in orbit of a gigantic model of a fried egg. It is all, of course, a model of the art world, but it looks like a torture garden. I imagine Nicholas Serota and Tate Modern director Vicente Todoli strapped in, being whirled around at unimaginable G-forces. I think Kippi would have liked that. It would have made a Happy End.

· Martin Kippenberger is at Tate Modern, London SE1, from tomorrow to May 14. Details: 020-7887 8888.


Martin Kippenberger, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s “Amerika” at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1994, mixed media, dimensions variable, © Estate Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.


The Artist Who Did Everything

MoMA’s Martin Kippenberger retrospective takes him back from the academics.


An untitled Kippenberger painting from 1981.

(Photo: Courtesy of MoMA and © the Estate of Martin Kippenberger/Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne)

Midway through “Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective,” a show I expected to be good but uneven, I found myself stunned. I had just been through several galleries filled with his early work—a painting of a fragmenting Guggenheim Museum, a photo of Kippenberger holding a bomb with the World Trade Center behind him, a brown Ford sprinkled with oat flakes, a mannequin of the artist standing in a corner, and what looks like a self-portrait bearing the title The Mother of Joseph Beuys. Then, in a room packed with The Peter Sculptures, a tremendous installation that looked like a storeroom or a swap meet, I understood. The curators, Ann Goldstein and Ann Temkin, were shutting down the awful academic echo chamber that has tried to turn Kippenberger into one cutout caricature or another: cagey gamesman, aesthetic tinkerer, fun drunk, anti-hero. They let his insurrectionary freedom and radicalism come out.

Kippenberger, who died in 1997 at the age of 44 from cirrhosis brought on by his prodigious drinking, was a live wire. He spoke in pungent aphorisms. He called exhibitions “a running gag.” Art schools were “the most stupid of all educational institutions.” The art market was like “screwing your dick to the wall.” (A nude photo of the artist suggests this would have been an extensive task.) He referred to himself variously as “a woman,” “an alky,” “a sales representative,” and “the holy Saint Martin.” He led a peripatetic life. Early in his career he settled in Florence, trying to become a film actor. Then he moved to Berlin, where he co-founded the gallery/crash pad “Kippenbergers Buro,” ran a nightclub, and started a punk band. In one memorable incident, he went into a bar and acted like a Nazi until patrons beat him up. Then he painted a picture of himself, battered and bandaged. (Another aphorism: “You may behave like an asshole, but you must never be one.”)

Later on, he grew wealthy, having inherited 700,000 Deutschmarks from his mother, who had been killed by a pallet falling off a truck. (After which Kippenberger started making art out of pallets.) From then, he moved among multiple residences, in Paris, Cologne, L.A., and Spain; opened the “Martin Bormann Gas Station” in Brazil; founded an art museum on a Greek island; and turned a Gerhard Richter monochrome into a cheap coffee table. If Robert Rauschenberg was the American Picasso—constantly innovating and working, and also prone to churning out crud—Kippenberger is the German Rauschenberg.

For the past decade, the world has been dominated by a chilly mix of Warhol’s use of culture as material, Richter’s ideas about photographs and abstraction, and Richard Prince’s notions of appropriation. It’s an international style that too many people use to produce art that looks like other art. Kippenberger’s work is powerful enough to scatter that aesthetic weather system. It’s deeply imprinted with received theories about reproduction, popular culture, and photography, but it never feels like it comes out of a cookie cutter. He created his own theory and then blew it to bits. Skepticism was his weapon of aesthetic destruction.

In “The Problem Perspective,” the curators give us Kippenberger the bacchanalian art-making machine, hanging several hundred works, some in dim nooks or high on walls. A lamppost sculpture with a Santa hat occupies the space usually held by Rodin’s Balzac. This is the most alive the new MoMA has looked, and it puts the overriding content of Kippenberger’s work into sharp focus: inner necessity, a frenzy against control, the need to pulverize clichés, and desperation built upon the fear of a short life. Most important, he was comfortable holding seemingly contradictory positions at once. Kippenberger instinctively grasped that ideologies and hierarchies were moribund, that formalism and technique are flexible, and that one can be idealistic without being utopian. These are keys for young artists looking for ways around pessimism and gamesmanship.

Although there’s much here that comes off as garish or schlocky, I left loving Kippenberger more than ever. People often complain that he never made a single great artwork. On the contrary: In his paintings he’s obviously battling with art history, especially the German variety, but his canvases are visually intense and physically and materially alive, establishing their own powerful conceptual orbits. In his sculpture, he is absolutely free, setting his own agenda—it’s impossible to imagine today’s sculpture without Kippenberger. A grid of 55 early black-and-white canvases of postcards and photos (done while he was in Florence) already shows his sense of subject matter and skill, and his artistic wrestling match with Richter. His 1988 self-portraits—showing himself as big as a blimp, in underpants pulled high—parody macho male painters. The latex paintings with stuff jutting from them are amazements; a 1984 abstraction with a hint of a swastika, provocatively titled With the Best Will in the World, I Can’t See a Swastika, sees that one generation of Germans was trying to forget the symbol while a younger one was coming to terms with its elders’ willed blindness. Either way, the painting is some kind of late-twentieth-century masterpiece.

In the final two series, we see Kippenberger posing like Picasso’s last wife, Jacqueline, subtitling the piece The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore. Then he poses like figures from Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, inserting himself into (and once again tangling with) art history. He was burning as bright, hot, and fervid as he ever had, proving that he wasn’t going complacent or scared. “An artist who opposes himself still has the best chances to reach some result,” Kippenberger said. “The Problem Perspective” reveals just how deeply divided he was—and how powerful internal opposition can be.


Frieze Magazine

Martin Kippenberger

MOCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

In Martin Kippenberger’s epic installation The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ (1994) a roomful of unmatched desks and chairs are arr-anged on a green sports ground, with bleachers on each end. The piece takes its title from Kafka’s unfinished last novel from 1927, which ends with its protagonist applying for work at the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma after reading an advertisement stating: ‘Whoever wants to be an artist should sign up’. Kippenberger’s installation was an effort to complete Kafka’s work without fixing it to a single narrative; each desk represents a job interview, to be carried out by Kippenberger and his colleagues, collected and published. The Happy End… is a concept, but it also signifies a performance, of every job applicant and every artist, and the capacity to reinvent the same subject with each performance.

The theme of reinvention recurs throughout Kippenberger’s body of work. The catalogue for his retrospective ‘Nach Kippenberger’ at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, in 2003, featured an essay by Diedrich Diederichsen entitled ‘Der Selbstdarsteller’ – literally, ‘the self-performer’. Kippenberger reproduced his surrounding world as art at manic speed, and his art reproduced the role of Kippenberger. Since his death in 1997, aged 44, his party-boy persona has become an art-world legend. He stumbled, sometimes literally, but deliberately and dramatically, through the art system, leaving a legacy ranging from his hotel-stationery drawings to the false subway entrances of his Metro-Net World Connection (1993–7). His ideas moved too fast to be contained by a single style; the constant is the dynamic presence of the artist himself.

‘Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective’ featured around 250 works, spread across two of MOCA’s three locations. His installations – including The Happy End…, and the clever Spiderman-Atelier (1996) – commanded attention for their ambition. But the most monumental project may have been the hundreds of promotional photographs, posters and postcards that lined the spaces between the other works. This strategy, the promo as the art, was central to Kippenberger’s practice, as it engaged the artist (‘fictionalized and poeticized’, in the words of Diederichsen) in a cycle of re-presentation. In some works Kippenberger’s self-promotion satirized his self-mythologizing. In a poster commemorating his 25th birthday, with the slogan ‘1/4 Jahrhundert Kippenberger als Einer von Euch, unter Euch, mit Euch’ (‘Quarter of a century of Kippenberger as one of you, among you, with you’, 1978), he strikes the populist pose of the politician. In other works he plays the punchline to his visual jokes. A photograph from his exhibition ‘Helmut Newton für Arme’ (‘Helmut Newton for the Poor’, 1985) pictures him dressed as an old maid, while a postcard from the series ‘Knechte des Tourismus’ (‘Vassals of Tourism’, 1979) has him ‘breaking out’ of a mock prison cell. In either case Kippenberger pulls off his jokes without a trace of the art world’s too-cool-for-school posturing.

Although much of the immediacy of these works lies in their relationship with his culture and his network of social relations, their continued relevance results largely from his willingness to make himself visible, not only as author and an image but also as a body. Kippenberger foregrounded his own physicality with astonishing frankness. A series of self-portraits from the late 1980s depicts him as flabby and aged in a pair of high-waisted white underpants, a reference to a famous photograph of Pablo Picasso in similarly unflattering swimming trunks. As he posits his genius through his association with Picasso, he simultaneously deflates his mythos (and, by extension, that of Picasso and the ‘artist-genius’) by conflating it with the abject body, increasingly defined by its breakdown.
The self-portraits are a sombre counterpoint to the earlier images of the young, cocky dandy who likened himself to the Austrian actor Helmut Berger ‘on a good day’. But both communicate with the viewer through a language of presence. Recurring sculptural forms play a similar role. Figures such as Fred the Frog (1990), a crucified wooden frog holding a beer stein, and the crooked Street Lamp for Drunks (1988) stand in as comic analogues for the artist, yet they enact a lack of control that goes beyond his own alcohol abuse to comment on the cycle of dependence and dysfunction that underlies the moralistic façade of Western culture.
If ‘The Problem Perspective’ refers to anything, aside from the painting series of the same name from 1986, it is the ‘problem’ of Kippenberger – the Conceptualist who made objects and attended to market concerns, the self-performer who perpetually changed. He used art as a means of responding to the problems of society, but he did so by raising new questions. In The Hunger Family (1985), a crude revision of a typical Henry Moore form, for example, he equally satirizes the history of Modernism and confounds the logic of Conceptualism by stripping the object of its transcendence, thus hyperbolizing both its physical presence and its commodity status, chasing it from pathos to bathos. And he treated himself similarly. One of his most iconic pieces, Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm Dich (Martin, into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself, 1989), a life-size, dressed cast of a male figure facing a museum wall, is a response to charges from the German press that he promoted Nazi sloganeering, sexism, racism and rampant alcoholism. If you can’t behave like a good boy, then no art for you.

Even in an exhibition of this scale it’s difficult to encapsulate Kippenberger’s career. Greater attention to undertakings such as the Metro-Net or its thematic predecessor Tiefes Kehlchen (Deep Throat, 1991) would have been worthwhile. However, the curator Ann Goldstein can be credited with thoroughly representing his range and including supplemental texts. Throughout it all one suspects that Kippenberger was laughing not in spite of the world he saw but because of it. Although viewers were kept off the actual ‘Amerika’ installation, the bleachers allowed access to the imaginary interviews. From a distance the absurdity of the process, and of those repressive cultural conventions that engender it, begins to focus. From the laughter of the condemned comes, always, the funniest joke.

Natalie Haddad

About this review

Published on 01/01/08
By Natalie Haddad

Martin Kippenberger

Martin Kippenberger, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ (1994)

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Martin Kippenberger, 43, Artist Of Irreverence and Mixed Styles

Published: March 11, 1997

Martin Kippenberger, widely regarded as one of the most talented German artists of his generation, died on Friday at the University of Vienna Hospital. He was 43 and had moved to Vienna last year.

The cause was cancer, said Gisela Capitain, his agent and dealer.

A dandyish, articulate, prodigiously prolific artist who loved controversy and confrontation and combined irreverence with a passion for art, Mr. Kippenberger worked at various points in performance art, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation art and photography and also made several musical recordings.

He was a ringleader of a younger generation of ”bad boy” German artists born mostly after World War II that emerged in the wake of the German Neo-Expressionists. His fellow travelers included Markus and Albert Oehlen, Georg Herold and Gunter Forg, and they sometimes seemed almost as well known for their carousing as for their work. Mr. Kippenberger once made a sculpture titled ”Street Lamp for Drunks”; its post curved woozily back and forth.

In New York City, Mr. Kippenberger was known for a well-received show of improvisational sculptures at Metro Pictures in SoHo in 1987. The pieces incorporated an extensive range of found objects and materials and sundry conceptual premises. He considered no style or artist’s work off-limits for appropriation, though his paintings most frequently resembled heavily worked, seemingly defaced fusions of Dadaism, Pop and Neo-Expressionism and often poked fun at the art world or himself.

His penchant for mixing media, styles and processes influenced younger artists on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet the German art establishment seemed to have difficulty with his antics, which included buying a gas station during a trip to Brazil in 1986 and renaming it the ”Martin Bormann Gas Station.”

Although he had his first museum exhibition at Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt in 1986, he drew greater attention from institutions outside Germany, with exhibitions at the Pompidou Center in Paris (1993), the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam (1994) and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Geneva, where a show of his work opened at the end of January. In the last three weeks, exhibitions of his work have also opened at museums in Antwerp, Belgium, and Mochen Gladbach, Germany. His work will be included for the first time in this summer’s Documenta X exhibition in Kassel, Germany.

Born in Dortmund in 1953, Mr. Kippenberger began making and studying art at an early age, boycotting his grammar school art class when its teacher gave him only the second-highest grade. In the early 70’s he studied at the Hamburg Art Academy.

After a sojourn in Florence, where he had his first solo show in 1977, he settled in Berlin in 1978. In that year he founded ”Kippenberger’s Office” with Ms. Capitain, mounting exhibitions of his own art and that of his friends; became business director of S.O. 36, a performance, film and music space; started a punk band called the Grugas and made his first recording, a single called ”Luxus,” with Christine Hahn and Eric Mitchell.

An avid collector of art by his American and German contemporaries, he also was responsible for the changing display of art at Berlin’s premier art hangout, the Paris Bar. Leaving Berlin, originally for a long visit to Paris, Mr. Kippenberger spent the early 1980’s as an active member of the Cologne art scene. Thereafter he tended to be peripatetic, punctuating life in Germany with prolonged working visits in cities like Los Angeles, Seville and Madrid. In recent years he taught at the Frankfurt Academy of Art and the Kassel Art Academy, developing a following of devoted students.

Mr. Kippenberger is survived by his wife, Elsie Kippenberger-Kocherscheidt, a photographer; a daughter, Helene Hirsch of Cologne, and four sisters, Susanne Kippenberger and Bettina Herfeldt of Berlin, Sabina Steil-Kippenberger of Dortmund and Barbara Kippenberger of Cologne.==




Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997): The Looking For Freedom Tour

Part I: Freedom

Martin Kippenberger’s first major U.S. retrospective, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective curated by Ann Goldstein, is on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles through January 5, 2009. It will travel to The Museum of Modern Art, New York and be on view March 1 through May 11, 2009. Goldstein took the title for the exhibition from the title of a Kippenberger painting that incorporated one of the aphorisms that Kippenberger and Albert Oehlin published in a 1986 book entitled No Problem–No problème. The painting The problem perspective. You are not the problem, it’s the problem maker in your head includes the text “You are not the problem it’s the problem maker in your head” painted in large letters on its surface.

This essay’s title The Looking For Freedom Tour is taken from a 1992 Kippenberger painting in which this text is painted in large red letters across the work. In contrast with the painting The problem perspective. You are not the problem, it’s the problem maker in your head‘s abstraction the untitled work featuring “The Looking For Freedom Tour” text depicts a nude, middle-age man, who may be wearing a small life vest, half kneeling and half sitting on the roof of a sedan and staring out directly at the viewer. A desert mountain landscape is in the background and a suitcase in the foreground. From this painting’s perspective “looking for freedom” not only involves goofing around but unorthodox discomfort if, while striking a pose, it entails resting one’s testicles on a hot metal roof.

Though Kippenberger’s image appears throughout the exhibition in photographs and self-portraits the urge to focus on his biography is ignored here. The autobiographical information available in Kippenberger’s works can be argued to be as much a Kippenberger invention as any other aspect of his work. Most thought provoking is to divorce attention from Kippenberger the story and focus on the paths of inquiry leading out from the content of each work, out from the works’ inventions. As Kippenberger and Oehlin said “It’s not our problem, that some people have very much money” it can also be said that “It’s not our problem, that Kippenberger the artist looks like Kippenberger the art.”

The retrospective includes sculptures, installations, paintings, photographs, posters, cards and catalogues, but this description does not do justice to the wealth of material on view which includes the monumental The Happy End of Kafka’s Amerika. As one enters the exhibition at MOCA a work near the entrance tells a particularly LA story. The bottom part of the work looks like a small copy of parts of David Hockney’s signature works of Southern California roads and intersections with stop signs. A road runs past an intersection in the foreground and up a hill past a small cute house, but the road does not lead to a hill top or into the distance. The top portion of the work, far from being a colorful continuation of the Hockneyesque subject matter of the lower half, is a dark depiction of museum architecture. Hanging in a catenary curve in front of the picture, like the chain or rope out front an exclusive club, is an inexpensive bicycle chain with a transparent blue, plastic cover. The title makes the discussion of inclusion and exclusion and desire clear, Venice-MOCA-Dreamway, 1990. It is the road to MOCA, fully taken, now, eighteen years after the fact.

Publications, posters and exhibition announcements are displayed throughout the exhibition. One card shows the battered, bandaged head of a young man juxtaposed with the text “Dialog mit der Jugend” (Dialogue with the Young). It would be easy to succumb here and tell a story, but no need. As with so many of Kippenberger’s self portraits or autobiographical works the stories which magnified his persona only do so in the wake of the effectiveness of the work. The image in juxtaposition with the text puts Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on the stand. The dialectic is shown in action–pathetic, useless, savagely uncomfortable. Kippenberger has nailed it.

The hand of other artists is visible throughout the exhibition, whether in direct collaborations, incorporations of others’ works, or appropriations. This fact brings attention to the motto of the Lord Jim Lodge–a conceptual club, meaning it existed more as a concept than an actual club, formed by Kippenberger and several other artists–which is “Nobody Helps Nobody.” Note here the motto is not “Nobody Helps Anybody” which might mean nobody gets any help but “Nobody Helps Nobody” which though it might suggest a complete lack of help in closer examination more accurately suggests that nothing happens in a void. Kippenberger gets lots of help.

In a 1990 work from the Fred the Frog series Kippenberger appropriates a Matt Groening Life in Hell sixteen panel comic showing Groening’s characters Akbar and Jeff in dialogue. Kippenberger’s painting presents the first fifteen panels which offer one character saying fifteen times “I hate you.” The sixteenth panel of the comic is not presented. Readers of the comic might know that the missing panel would show the second character responding “I love you.” The grid’s missing frame, the space for reply, announces that the painting isn’t waiting for the audience’s response, or as is suggested by Akbar and Jeff being doubles of one another, Kippenberger isn’t even waiting for his own response before going on working. Kippenberger points to the possibility of the negation of a codependent relationship with an audience. The work makes the claim that it is not completed by the audience or the other–“I hate you” says the art and you the viewer get to say nothing. Kippenberger avoids the fate of Victor Frankenstein whose joy of creating is trampled by the reality of his creation–as the Doctor relates in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, “The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.” Kippenberger’s work makes the claim that it must remain incomplete, left behind before it can be fully known or, worse, know or violate its creator.

As a “dialogue with the young” is to be avoided so is dialogue with the audience, or the critic or posterity or one’s self. Pamela M. Lee in her essay If Everything Is Good, Then Nothing Is Any Good Any More, written for the exhibition’s excellently designed and informative catalogue Martin Kippenberger The Problem Perspective (Ann Goldstein, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts), quotes Kippenberger putting a different spin on the notion of the unfinished work or joke, “An exhibition is an artist’s ‘running gag.’ But a ‘running gag’ in the literal sense of the term, note: you have to move, keep walking, keep going. […] For me, it’s also a good excuse–for I have to keep moving all the time–to be constantly moving, going to different towns. Although the desire to stay on somewhere never leaves me. Every time I redecorate my apartment room top to bottom. Which means I spend money. To analyze the new situation and cover my costs, I organize exhibitions.” The catalogue also benefits from including large portions of Jutta Koether’s 1990/1991 interview with Kippenberger. In this interview Kippenberger continues this notion of the inconclusive nature, and its relationship to gags, not just of his art but art in general, “Art taken as a science has the same sluggish beauty as a joke without a point, but it’s full of details.”

So, who is Fred the Frog? In sculpture and painting he is a frog on a cross (nailed to a painter’s stretcher bars in the sculptural version) holding in one hand a beer stein and in the other an egg. In some of the works the act of crucifixion is clearly depicted but in the Fred the Frog work featuring the Groening Life in Hell appropriation Fred the Frog is only a smear and the cross clear but as a graphic abstraction, being created by blackening the narrow gaps between the frames of the comic in the central part of the canvas. The frog and other figures and crosses and eggs in various states appear throughout the Fred the Frog series. The egg, at times being crushed in a man’s hand, also appears in the Hand-Painted Pictures series. About the egg we can refer to Kippenberger’s discussion about finding a form which Goldstein points to in her catalogue essay The Problem Perspective. Goldstein quotes Kippenberger in interview with Daniel Baumann, “In painting you have to be on the look out: what windfall is still left for you to paint. Justice hasn’t been done to the egg, justice hasn’t been done to the fried egg, Warhol’s already had the banana. So you take a form, it’s always about sharp edges, a square, this and this format, the golden section. An egg is white and flat, how can that turn into a coloured picture?”

The humor of Fred the Frog and his egg has recently escaped certain parties representing the Catholic Church. The London Times reported in July, 2008 regarding events of the summer of ’08, “Pope Benedict XVI’s summer break at a seminary in the mountains of northern Italy has led to demands for the removal of a ‘provocative’ sculpture of a crucified frog on show in a nearby museum. Local Catholics have complained to the police that the work by the German artist Martin Kippenberger, on show at the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art, is a ‘public obscenity.’ It depicts a bright green frog with its tongue hanging out, nailed to a cross, with a beer mug in one outstretched hand and an egg in the other.” A version of this work, a number exist, appears in The Problem Perspective. The version at MOCA is called First the Feet and the wood sculpture depicts a frog holding a mug in one hand and a fried egg in the other with two eggs, in shell, as testicles. Robert Ohrt’s essay First the Feet from the 2005 Taschen book Kippenberger gives some background on the Fred the Frog series and the sculptures’ titles, “The book accompanying the first exhibition with Fred is the most beautiful collection of texts that Martin ever published, poems that were spoken down from the Cross, in the final seconds, at the moment in which release or redemption only comes again in the familiar fashion. Incidentally, the Frog’s cross is put together from pieces of stretcher frame for canvases, the Cross of Art, a cross for the skin of painting, and at the last moment – this is the second joke that was always told in Fred’s honor – at the last moment he should have been liberated finally from his suffering on Golgotha. The rescuers approached. There he hung, set up with the Cross on his back, and still alive. They were already climbing up, and were already pulling the nails out, first the right hand, and then the left, too late for his request: Not the hands, please! First the feet!”

The Times article continues, “Luis Durnwalder, the head of the local province, said he supported contemporary art, but not ‘pure provocation … The principles of respect for popular feeling and of artistic freedom have to find a reciprocal tolerance through good will and with understanding from both sides.’ Under pressure from Bishop Egger the museum curators have moved the frog from the museum entrance to the third floor, but have so far refused to remove it altogether. They said the work was not an attack on Christianity but rather a reflection of the artist’s ‘state of profound crisis’ at the time.”

The notion that attack is missing from the work can be taken with a grain of salt particularly given the background provided by Ohrt and the information Nicole Davis in her 2005 Artnet article I Love Kippenberger offers up: “Luhring Augustine and Nyhaus each have a version of Kippenberger’s frog on a cross (1990), where Fred the Frog is hammered (literally and figuratively) to a crucifix with a beer stein in his hand. The translation of the title to English is approx. ‘What’s the difference between Casanova and Christ, when they get nailed the expression is the same.'” This is the first joke Ohrt alludes to above.

The point Durnwalder misses is that the notion of a side with Kippenberger’s work isn’t applicable. Diedrich Diederichsen in his catalogue essay The Poor Man’s Sports Car Descending A Staircase: Kippenberger as Sculptor points to the conceptual origins for some of Kippenberger’s works, “Kippenberger looked back to the various crude and drastic jokes that were popular during the early 1980s and applied them to sculpture. […] In reality, any anecdotal occasion was good enough for the artist, provided that it was sufficiently overdetermined…” In looking at stories in contemporary Western culture it is hard to find one more “overdetermined” than the Passion of Christ. More thought provoking than the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art curators’ comment that the Fred the Frog sculpture reflects Kippenberger’s “state of profound crisis” (for as before, “It isn’t our problem”) is the notion of trying to nail down a “running gag.” Kippenberger’s frog on the cross lets the viewer know that if the “running gag” is to be stopped, if the artist is to be nailed down, nailed to his stretcher bars, then the viewer will see no prince but only a drunk, egg eating, frog. If, after all this, someone is still hanging around to have their sensibilities skewered then they only have themselves to blame, or their “problem maker”–the artist was already long gone.

Crucial to the MOCA exhibition are the Peter sculptures. A number of them are cramped together in one section of one room with a boundary around them so they cannot be walked amongst. This is not a criticism. Diederichsen speaks about them at length in his essay and included in this discussion is how “peter” in German is used to refer to a “guy” like a baker as a Broetchenpeter (rolls guy) or to an inanimate thing, “thingamajig.” Diederichsen goes further, “But there was also a critical and sometimes pejorative dimension to Kippenberger’s use of the suffix ‘-peter:’ It could only be used for things or people that were not sufficiently complex, that could be reduced to an attribute or function.” In Diederichsen’s text it is heartwarming to learn that David Salle’s “Peter-hood” was often referenced by Kippenberger and illuminating to learn that Kippenberger’s realization of Gerhard Richter’s “Peter-hood” came with a “slowly dawning sense of disappointment.”

Part II: Play

In Brian De Palma’s 1980 thriller “Dressed to Kill” Angie Dickinson plays Kate Miller (Peter Miller’s mother) and Peter is played by Keith Gordon. In a playful, and ultimately creepy, exchange with her son, Kate tells Peter that he shouldn’t be staying up all night working on his machine–which is some kind of homegrown computer. She then chides him for not having a name for his machine and christens it “Peter.” Her parting shot directed at her son as she leaves to go to the Metropolitan Museum, and unbeknownst to her also to her death, is “have fun playing with your Peter.” It is this playing with your penis aspect (or, homologously, your clitoris) of viewing Kippenberger’s sculpture that can be kept in mind here. Kippenberger in a poster for the exhibition of the Peter works at Galerie Max Hetzier in 1987 does this himself. Kippenberger has borrowed an ad for Burlington clothing and modified it for his exhibition poster. In the modified poster a man in a beret speaks to two striking women in the background. The women in turn are looking at a handsome man in the foreground who is crouched down in a rather macho way with a hand on one knee, elbow jutting out, and looking intently at a phallic sculpture.

So how do these thingamajigs function; how does the aspect of play figure in? For Modell Interconti, 1987 Kippenberger purchased a grey Richter monochromatic painting and made a table of it. In this example the sense of play extends subversively to the marketplace. Goldstein points out, “Kippenberger not only turned the Richter into a table, but also transformed it into a ‘Kippenberger.’ Purchasing the Richter at market price, he sold the sculpture at a price based on his own market value, which was substantially lower.” The Peter sculpture Wittgenstein, 1987 looks like an empty book case. A reference can be imagined–Wittgenstein gave up philosophy, however temporarily, so he didn’t need his books. In the MOCA exhibition viewers can turn the corner and see that same Peter sculpture, Wittgenstein, depicted in an untitled painting from 1998 and also in the painting, somewhat in front of the depicted cabinet and somewhat in it, is a head to thigh length portrait of a man, nude except for the large underwear he is wearing that is reminiscent of the underwear one would have seen Pablo Picasso wearing in pictures used elsewhere by Kippenberger in posters. Now what is the reference? In lieu of philosophy does Kippenberger offer a parody of the aging Picasso as a lion-in-winter. Or, now has the cabinet become a closet in which to hide a sexuality? Wittgenstein was gay, wasn’t he? So here the play begins and what appeared just a thing becomes a starting point. But the viewer has been warned: to expect the play, however titillating, to lead to a conclusion would be missing the point. In the catalogue interview with Koether, Kippenberger imagines this kind of play and speaks of working in such a way so that future viewers can say, “Kippenberger was good amusement! Plus, he looked up some minor details of various subjects and worked on them.” Kippenberger’s usual tongue-in-cheek response aside, this amusement becomes a key element of his works’ viability. Play is the vitality of the work. Sigmund Freud quoted the philosopher Kuno Fischer as saying “aesthetic freedom consists in the playful contemplation of objects.” For The Looking for Freedom Tour the statement is shortened to “Freedom is Play.”

Freud’s comment that “play is a child’s work” can be added to the consideration along with Picasso’s statement, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Freud’s comment speaks to the practical aspect of play as preparing a child for adulthood. But if in the end adulthood is the unconsidered goal of the child which is facilitated by play and freedom is the considered goal of the adult which consists of play then it is important to acknowledge through Picasso that this ability to be absorbed in childish play that makes the child an artist is mostly lost by adults–and is mostly lost by most adult artists. Kippenberger’s work is held up as a rare example of adult art as adult play as at once representation of freedom and as itself the very action of freedom.

The Lord Jim Lodge motto “Nobody Helps Nobody” is here discussed in relation to Jim’s story in Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. Jim, the First Mate, and the other officers on a damaged ship leave a group of helpless passengers stranded onboard as they flee. The passengers, though, are rescued by other parties. Jim is the sole crew member who stays to answer for his deeds in court. Later as he tries to make his way in life his past catches up to him time and time again and eventually he finds himself living in lands far from his own and achieves some kind of redemption by helping others and finally sacrificing his own life. How does our notion of “Freedom is Play” function here? Returning to the painting with the “Looking for Freedom Tour” text the notions of goofing off, of play, and of discomfort come again to the fore. So, considering “Nobody helps Nobody” and “Freedom is Play,” if you do not help others, if you do not do the right thing, particularly when the situation calls for your help, then no play is possible, no freedom is possible. Ultimately the conclusion arises that not only is play not an unlimited exercise of free will but also that maintaining the conditions that allow for play and freedom can require self-sacrifice and personal discomfort. To use the adage used to justify nonsensical wars to a more sensical purpose, “freedom isn’t free.” Is play only possible when space has been cleared so that it can take place, or is play that very action of clearing the space for it to take place? Regardless and ultimately, the space which is cleared for or by the play is the place where freedom comes. As Lord Jim discovered, our problems can choose us.

Part III: Work

Kippenberger’s Put Your Freedom in the Corner can be used to explicate freedom’s demands. Goldstein’s catalogue essay discusses the work and Kippenberger’s use of a Robert Gober artwork brings to mind Michel Tournier’s rewriting of the Crusoe story in Friday as we ask Gober’s unasked question as to whether the slave owner is free to sleep in freedom: “Kippenberger addressed the breach of the wall and German reunification. First shown in Los Angeles and modeled on a section of the demolished wall, the sculpture is a plywood construction covered with Robert Gober’s limited-edition wallpaper Hanging Man/Sleeping Man (1989). The combination of Gober’s work, which pairs an image of a sleeping white man with that of a lynched black man, together with the formal reference to the wall, is at once pathetic and resonant. Incorporating a repaired ceramic vase on a pedestal, Put Your Freedom in the Corner was a powerful statement at a moment of celebration, confronting social relations at their most brutal, as they are embedded in the human subconscious. Kippenberger was critical of the removal of the wall, connecting it with the impetus to cleanse history: ‘The wall is part of German History. Now that all that’s left of it is a bit on Potsdamer Platz, it no longer feels like you’re walking through a wall. History is something you need to feel. First they weren’t Nazis, then they weren’t Communists. So what are they? They pulled down the wall without asking us, and smartly wiped out some German history. The wall ought to have been preserved. We don’t need excavations, like in Greece–in this country history happens at your front door. Beuys thought the wall should have been seven centimeters higher–on purely aesthetic grounds. Everybody cheered when the wall was pulled down. That’s the wrong way to handle history.'” As Tournier examined a comfortable but false understanding of the meaning of and the relationship between the civilized and the uncivilized, Kippenberger deconstructed the symbolic unlinking of the present from the horrific past and showed that the wall’s destruction was an empty symbolic gesture and not a truthful representation of the unbreakable chains that constitute any history.

Lord Jim fails to do what he thinks is right in a moment of crisis. He manages to regain his sense of freedom by working step by step on doing what he had thought would come to him naturally. One finds a similar conclusion in Voltaire’s Candide. Candide, after searching the world for his true love, squandering a fortune and witnessing and engaging in violence and hardship finds himself settling down with his friends to make a life by day to day work. In looking at 20th Century German history and thinking of the plight of the enslaved while mulling over the notion of “freedom” the gates of Auschwitz loom large. There and at other Nazi camps the words “Arbeit macht frei” (work will set you free) were written on the gates. The perversion of the death camps makes it difficult to imagine this phrase in light of the consideration of and pursuit of the work that calls to our deepest sense of obligation and presents routes to freedom. The work of play is to do the work that calls to you from beyond the requests of your fellow man. The work of enforced servitude and, in addition, that of unconsidered, voluntary servitude is not the work of play.

Kippenberger’s METRO-Net subway entrances (of the mid 1990s), scattered across the world and with stairs that lead down to nothing but shut gates with only earth behind them, have links to the gates of the camps. In the signage of the METRO-Net gates, with their connections to the Lord Jim Lodge, mystical symbolism arises along with mystical slogans. Kipppenberger’s “N.H.N.” seems to have less of a direct relation to “Arbeit macht frei” than it does to the slogan at Buchenwald “Jedem das Seine” (To each his own) which is on the path to “Nobody Helps Nobody.” Kippenberger’s critique of system is not limited to any one ideology. The symbol for the Lord Jim Lodge which Kippenberger both created as sculpture and incorporated into the METRO-Net gates includes a hammer, a sun and a pair of breasts. At first look the hammer and the curve of the sun bring to mind the symbol of the USSR. But instead of the hammer of industry crossed with the sickle of agriculture here the hammer is striking the sun. In some versions of the logo it is unclear what is happening at the impact point–in some the design appears to be a rendering of impact (like of a hammer hitting glass) but in others, particularly those used for the METRO-Net, at the point the hammer hits the sun a spider-web is clearly delineated. This spider web suggests lack of use or lack of usefulness. If the hammer is imagined to be hitting a sickle rather than being crossed with it then the logo suggest this destruction would already be redundant as the cob-webbed sickle is already in disuse. The old workers’ symbols and the Communist party are no longer of use. The Lord Jim Lodge’s symbol does not include a sickle, of course, but a sun. The symbolism of a hammer hitting a sun more suggests futility than destruction and the breasts hanging down appear an afterthought, or a subversion. Kippenberger reminds that archaic symbolism aside Marcel Duchamp’s proposition Rrose Sélavy–Eros c’est la vie–may be, if not a final answer, then the best bet at a parting shot.

These shut METRO-Net gates might suggest that if nobody helps anybody, nobody gets anywhere. Or perhaps, there is no reason to go anywhere if no help is to be had. But, one does not actually have to have passed through the gates of the METRO-Net for this help to have occurred. Kippenberger’s MoMAS project was in part about helping others. The METRO-Net station Kippenberger brought to Syros brought other artists to Syros–of course not in the sense of transporting them but in providing a starting point for the Museum of Modern Art Syros (Kippenberger’s project, not a museum by most standards). The various artists’ works presence at MoMAS and the artists being eventually–and, more, conceptually–linked to the whole world through Kippenberger’s global network of stations (realized to various degrees in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Dawson City, New York, Muenster, Kassel, Leipzig and Syros) establishes the corollary to N.H.N. as S.H.S.–“Somebody Helps Somebody.” To be somebody one needs to help somebody and to be helped by somebody. Again, Kippenberger does not advocate working in a void.

Kippenberger’s late masterpiece The Happy End of Kafka’s Amerika takes the modern working world as its subject. In the unfinished Franz Kafka novel Amerika (or The Man Who Disappeared) the protagonist is looking for work. The poster that leads him to an absurdist interview taking place on a grand scale reads, “At the racecourse in Clayton, today from 6 a.m. till midnight, personnel is being hired for the Theatre in Oklahoma! The great Theatre of Oklahoma is calling you! It’s calling you today only! If you miss this opportunity, there will never be another! Anyone thinking of his future, your place is with us! All welcome! Anyone who wants to be an artist, step forward! We are the theatre that has a place for everyone, everyone in his place! If you decide to join us, we congratulate you here and now! But hurry, be sure not to miss the midnight deadline! We shut down at midnight, never to reopen! Accursed be anyone who doesn’t believe us! Clayton here we come!”

In Kafka’s work interviewers evaluate interviewees in an expansive environment. We know that the questions do not regard whether the potential worker has pursued a work which will clear a space for play which will lead to freedom. We know the questions are of the kind determining whether the potential worker will be of the sort that will suit the needs of the interviewer. Kafka’s protagonist makes the claim of being an engineer just to get the process over with. So here Kippenberger creates a sculpture that presents a seemingly endless array of interview tables and chairs–not at a racecourse but on a soccer pitch–and this diversity, a wild diversity shared by all the work’s constituting elements, is itself a demonstration of play, a demonstration of freedom, which takes as its subject not enforced servitude but voluntary servitude. Some freedom is not only work but revolt.

To make the association of work with servitude or bondage clear, Kippenberger has placed on the edge of the sports field observation towers of the kind one would find in a prison or concentration camp. The towers emphasize that there is a direct relationship between the enforced servitude of the concentration camp and the voluntary servitude of the workplace. Work will not set you free if it is not your work.

Not only do the disparate designs for the chairs and tables (some found junk, some design classics, some hand made, some made by other artists–Tony Oursler and Jason Rhoades included) suggest a subversion of the standardized interview process so does the very design of the field. The use of the sports field as the ground for the sculpture emphasizes that there are rules to the game of servitude and Kippenberger’s work insists on directing our attention to the absurd rules of the interview process in Kafka’s Amerika. The goal areas are not laid out in the proper places for a standard soccer field. The should be across from one another at each end of the longest part of the field. Instead they are across from one another at what would be the midpoint of the field so that they are as close together as they could be. This negation of the design becomes revolt. The revolt itself, as discussed, is the result of play.

Goldstein says, “Kippenberger embraced failure as a generative strategy.” Looking at The Happy End of Kafka’s Amerika this failure can be reevaluated. Failure in one system may not be failure in another. In the production of art the discussion about the difference between being a commercial failure as an artist and being a failure as an artist in not offering authentic cultural contributions is well worn. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh has said, “Beginning with the readymade, the work of art had become the ultimate subject of a legal definition and the result of institutional validation.” Kippenberger overtly addresses commercial and institutional validation through the Preis works of 1987 (1.Preis (1st Prize), 2.Preis (2nd Prize) and so on); with the German word “preis” meaning both “price” and “prize,” and their brute, table cloth patterning, the works are an announcement of a free man’s willingness to accept lucre and its burden. The question these paintings throw up is if the culture at large can pay you handsomely for providing an authentic critique of that culture can that critique maintain an inherent value outside of monies paid for its acquisition, or, returning to the notion of Freedom equals Play equals Work, can one simultaneously do the work of freedom and get paid? Obviously, Kippenberger had been pointing to himself running back and forth across this bridge for a long time.

Part IV: Dead-Ends

One might think that an artist always on the move, playfully interested in perpetuating a “running gag,” would have little to fear. The truth is bleaker; as death can cut short life at any moment, free movement can be stymied by a dead-end at any turn. If a dead-end is not avoided, if one ends up idling there, it becomes the entry to the stasis of true “Peter-hood.” Kippenberger’s work reveals through its own composition how stasis was avoided. In answering a question about his process Kippenberger describes, again in the Koether interview, some paintings made in collaboration with his assistant Merlin Carpenter: “Then the paintings that got too good. These are the paintings which were done by Merlin, the assistant, after instructions. Simply too good, too well done, and therefore slush, that kind of painting, those comments. So I decided to make double-slush of them. They were photographed–very flat and colorful and shiny–and then exhibited as photos. And the acrylic paintings were chopped up and put into garbage cans that had been produced especially for that purpose.” Kippenberger sacrifices the paintings for the art, avoiding the dead-end. He says further of these works “Because Immendorff’s old idea, ‘stop painting,’ may be expressed again once in a while because it’s never been obeyed.” The chopped up works in a dumpster were featured prominently in Kippenberger’s 1991 exhibition Put Your Eye in Your Mouth at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

This ongoing escape from painting is also evident in the 1981 series Dear Painter, Paint for Me. Here Kippenberger hired a sign painter to create large works after photographs. The association with Richter’s photorealistic works cannot be avoided, but the sign-painter’s craft is no better or worse than it is when put to use for advertising. The quality of the means of production cannot be evaluated, only the choice of means, once we know the paint application is arbitrary. The subject matter can be best described as playful. Davis, again in her 2005 discussion, gives a to-the-point overview of this playfulness: “A 200 x 150 cm black-and-white portrait of a scruffy little dog is perfectly painted to insinuate itself as the missing image of one of the terrorist’s pets in Gerhard Richter’s Baader-Meinhof series–very funny, MK. But, in fact, all the paintings are funny, Kippenberger was nothing if not a joker. (…) Outsourcing his work to a billboard painter also gave him a chance to have himself depicted according to a nobler, higher vision. The crispness of Werner’s style renders Kippenberger regal and handsome. Each of the five self-portraits are a clever interpretation keyed to Kippy’s fantasies. For instance, the ‘self-portrait’ based on a signed, autographed photo of German actor Hansjorg Felmy allows Kippenberger’s lost pipe dream to be brought to life. Another black-and-white portrait places the viewer into the thick of an erotic encounter between Kippenberger and a beautiful woman. The most fitting depiction is a large painting of Kippenberger sitting on a discarded couch on a New York City street corner–a royal reject playing king over his degenerate court of garbage bags and indifferent traffic.” In the MOCA exhibition the work of Kippenberger on the couch as well another work showing a pocketful of pens from above and another of two men walking arm in arm on a busy street are images that resonate. Missed at MOCA is the work from this series of the “erotic encounter.”

Painting is not the only area where one might end up in a dead-end. German culture and history provide ample opportunities. Anselm Kiefer’s engagement with myth and history are, in part, targets of Kippenberger’s collaboration with Albert Oehlen in their 1982 work Capri by Night. The subject is not a nocturne of the beautiful Mediterranean island swarmed by German tourists yearly but a Ford Capri automobile. Of course the associations to the other Capri are there; the inexpensive pseudo-sports car’s name is meant to evoke a lifestyle of sporty play. And Kippenberger means to point to Germans’ fascination with Italy as a recreation destination–as he does in another work which places a skeleton of a Venetian gondola atop a high-end BMW sedan. Kiefer famously has included straw in his massive landscapes with their invocations of origin myths and the roots of German culture. By using the Capri, Kippenberger points to more contemporary infatuations and, then, diminishing the drama of Kiefer’s straw, paints the Ford Capri (the car was sold under the Mercury label in the U.S.) with a paint mixture that includes oats. As well as the car itself on display at MOCA is the 1982 piece Blue Lagoon which is a number of rectangular pieces cut from the hood of a blue Capri hung in an arrangement. Again Capri the island and its waters are a reference and it is easy to imagine that the Brooke Shields movie The Blue Lagoon of just a couple years before is also a reference. With Brooke in mind, the play can extend in a line from this work through Richard Prince (who counts Kippenberger as having been a “good friend”) and his infamous 1983 re-representation of the photos by Gary Gross showing a naked, prepubescent Brooke Shields posing in a soft-porn style and then the line can then be drawn even further, and with more obvious justification, through Prince’s car hood works that he began later that decade.

Back to Kiefer, Kippenberger’s Bormann gas station work is in communication with Kiefer’s 1969 photographic documentation of himself traveling around Europe giving the Nazi salute in various cities. In 1986 Kippenberger traveled to Brazil where he worked for three months. Some of this work was shown under the name The Magical Misery Tour. While in Brazil he purchased an unused gas station and renamed it the Martin Bormann Gas Station. It had long been rumored that the high ranking Nazi within Hitler’s inner circle had escaped Germany to somewhere, perhaps Brazil, to live after World War II. Most would now accept the more recent genetic testing of Bormann’s skull found in Berlin and indicating that he had died in Berlin in 1945. Doubling the absurdity of Bormann as a gas station owner is the association of The Magical Misery Tour with the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Kippenberger may have been pointing to the failure of the Beatles to create a magical film when they went off hoping to create one by looking for adventure with a bus load of everyday people and a film crew. Bormann’s failure, in the most superficial of analyses, was also a failure of tainted idealism. But if Bormann had ended up in Brazil with the wealth of Germany in his pockets, as the story sometimes goes, would he have had to worry about getting a job? If he had and had ended up owning a gas station certainly he would not have brought attention to himself, just as his name was not affixed to the gas chambers of the concentration camps, by naming a public gas station with his name. Kiefer has spoken of being born in the zero year of the new Germany, 1945. He is tied to the old myths, to the notion of the fall of old civilizations and the slow birth of new on blackened ground. Kippenberger shows this to be a dead-end. His view is more human–we are not confronting a cycle of tragedy on a scale beyond human capacity to have perpetuated it, but dealing with a living history with still living figures. And as he wasn’t in favor of hiding history by tearing down the Berlin Wall, he sees that the act of stirring around in the same old mysticism–even with your heart in your hands and the ash of mourning smeared from here to there–leads to the same old places. So, Kippenberger makes a crude joke instead–Bormann is doing fine and is in charge of pumping gas, once again.

Goldstein speaks directly to Kippenberger’s attitude towards post-1945 Germany’s relationship to its recent Nazi history by quoting Isabelle Graw and discussing her views of German artists confronting German history: “Graw considered the work of German painters Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz, strongly critiquing their use of Nazi subject matter. (…) In Kippenberger, she found an artist who sought to disturb and destabilize the official histories citing his 1984 painting Ich kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (With the best will in the world, I can’t see a swastika). The work is a tangle of swastika-like forms, yet none are autonomous or clearly discrete. The depiction of the swastika was forbidden at that time in Germany, and Kippenberger tackled the hypocrisy of that cultural position, not only centering in on a taboo and putting it in the face of the spectator, but confronting the desire and will to repress what was deeply rooted in a national psyche still coming to terms with its past.”

Kippenberger does draw a clearly legible swastika in one of his many drawings on hotel stationary. A woman’s genitals are viewed from exactly the same viewpoint as those depicted in Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. If the works are compared side by side the viewer notices how the black bush of pubic hair in The Origin of the World has turned into a pair of black, slinky panties emblazoned with a swastika. In Kippenberger’s work the woman is pulling aside the panties and masturbating. The hotel, by the way, providing the stationary for this sketch of epic implications was the Fitzpatrick Hotel Bunratty now called the Bunratty Shannon Shamrock Hotel.

Kippenberger’s hotel drawings are another important part of the MOCA exhibition. They are fully rendered works or sketched out ideas, sometimes for sculptures, all on hotel stationary. The dead-end Kippenberger avoids here, with a simple gesture, is the view of artist’s original drawing by the viewer and marketplace as being an integral part of an artist’s oeuvre and thus being of de facto, predetermined importance. Kippenberger negates this categorization of his large body of drawings by associating the works with happenstance art making–the printed headings suggest that the paper happened to be available while he was traveling and he happened to make a drawing. The surprising thing about this tactic is how effective it is. The viewer is ready to accept, even when confronted with hundreds of these drawings, that the works are not part of a larger project, that indeed the drawings were just tossed off.

The discussion of dead-ends takes a turn in looking at a particular set of paintings in the MOCA exhibition that could be read as direct cultural critique if the critique were clear. Goldstein discusses the 1985 work Three Houses with Slits (Betty Ford Clinic, Stammheim, Jewish Elementary School (title translation from catalogue) by quoting a Diederichsen text, “In dealing with three buildings with political associations (Stammheim Prison; the Betty Ford Clinic; a Jewish Primary School), they encouraged the assumption that Kippenberger had at long last turned his attention to subjects which, while they might not show any obvious increase in artistic conscientiousness, at least revealed an almost civic-minded (or “alternative,” which amounts to the same thing) willingness to play along. Which in this case means asking questions which answer themselves. Because that’s what wild young artists are supposed to do when they become mature.” Goldstein continues with a discussion of how the work is “open to interpretation.” Diederichsen includes a conversation of the architecture depicted in the paintings as pointed to by the work’s title, but the discussion can also go elsewhere. As a master of escaping dead-ends Kippenberger here offers up double dead-ends. These dead-ends are deader than the dead-end job. The dead-end of chemical abuse ends in the dead-end of recovery. The dead-end of political radicalism ends in the dead-end of prison (and in the case of Stammheim death for its famous inmates from the RAF or Baader-Meinhof Group). The dead-end of religious dogma begins in the dead-end of religious education.

For artists art history is also filled with dead-ends. And for artists of Kippenberger’s generation none was more dead than Picasso. Yet, Kippenberger painted a 1996 series of work called Jacqueline: The paintings Pablo couldn’t paint anymore from pictures taken of Jacqueline in her husband’s studio after he had died. The paintings are patterned with bold, roughly executed vertical stripes and include images of a person who seems more or less modeled after Jacqueline, or perhaps it is a man, sometimes wearing outfits (one a cowboy hat and scarf another an Indian headdress) painted quickly in a brushy style. The works don’t particularly look like Picasso’s and nor does the figure particularly look like Jacqueline. The paintings are prominently signed with the initials “J.P.” Ann Temkin in her catalogue essay The “Late Works” of Martin Kippenberger discusses what kind of paintings “Pablo couldn’t paint anymore:” “But Kippenberger’s statement contained more meaning than perhaps even he realized. Today there is no way the serious male artist can generate interesting work by painting a woman he loves scores of times as Picasso had managed to do for seven decades. The end of the romance of modern art also dissolved the possibility of making romantic love the non-ironic subject of art.” This comment points further to the problem with movements and traditions in art–each activity eventually implodes. What was free play becomes rote. What keeps the artist from imploding along with a project is the willingness to move on. Kippenberger, by addressing Picasso, took this a step further and by entering an arena where most others saw only traps demonstrated how nothing is off limits to the emancipated artist. Kippenberger’s success in this series, though, has much to do with his turning his back on the entire problem of Picasso’s craft and contribution as an artist. Picasso’s name is in the title of the series and the subject matter is ostensibly of his wife but there are only a few off-hand Picasso-esque forms here and there that would suggest any kind of a dialogue with Picasso’s creations as an artist. It is the viewer that brings the weight of Picasso to the viewing of Kippenberger’s Jacqueline paintings, and it is the viewer that is left holding the weight because Kippenberger’s paintings barely remember to bring up the subject.

In another series of late works Kippenberger took on Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. The photographer Elfie Semotan captured Kippenberger modeling the tragic figures rendered by Géricault in his famous painting of desperate seafarers waiting for rescue. In Semotan’s photographs Kippenberger’s presence can be clearly seen as that of a model or an actor, and these help inform understanding that his presence in earlier works was also contrivance. A number of Kippenberger’s paintings in this series were taken from Semotan’s photographs. The Medusa drawings he made on hotel stationary were made after the paintings. Kippenberger also had a large carpet made that presented a top down view of the raft itself. In part of the series Kippenberger tips his hand and lets the viewer know that appreciation of “great art” often mimics the appreciation of the fetishist. Temkin describes, “Another set of drawings, fifteen works in colored pencil and felt pen, were made atop images photocopied from a book of Géricault’s drawing studies for Le radeau de la Méduse, sometimes including the captions. Kippenberger overlaid Géricault’s sketches of figures and body parts with drawings of women’s hands, feet, and shoes copied from the erotic photos of Elmer Batters, a pioneer of fetish photography. The disturbing collisions presented by these drawings–between Eros and Thanatos, two different centuries, draughtsmanship and photography, high art and low–counter any notion that Kippenberger might have been merely reverential toward his model.” Kippenberger indeed felt free to roam where others feared to tread. He was able to reveal to the viewer the pathos of The Raft of the Medusa and make it new while revealing the bathos of his and Géricault’s projects and, in essence, saying for the both of them that it is nothing inherent in art but your, the viewer’s, perversion that makes our labor and the forms we create attractive to you.

Part V: The Beginning

Goldstein’s choice of the The Problem Perspective as the title for her major curatorial achievement can be understood in her summation of Kippenberger’s practice at the end of her catalogue essay: “With everything and everyone usable as stimuli for his work, Kippenberger challenged and re-envisioned the role of the artist. His was an unsettling presence, breaching the boundaries that reinforce conventions and decorum in order to articulate and objectify the connections and relationships between individuals and their culture. Kippenberger did not like to be alone, and he embedded his work in social relations in order to foster the connections that he needed for himself. He left an exhaustive and challenging oeuvre, a few lifetimes of work in just twenty years, with numerous trails of associations that will take many years and many exhibitions to unfold. It is a most problematic practice–and that is its great gift.”

In this essay “freeing” has been given preference over “problematic.” And Goldstein is certainly correct to say that as much as has been seen of Kippenberger and written about him his projects are just beginning to be revealed. The impact of his “freeing process” is still unfolding which is useful to keep in mind while viewing each of the works as well as the exhibition as a whole. Some works in The Problem Perspective stand out as points from which this conversation could be spun further: the posters and catalogues and invitation cards; the work done in collaboration with other artists and assistants; per the first two of this list, Adam Kuczynski’s watercolors, commissioned by Kippenberger, depicting Kippenberger’s publications with one publication depicted per watercolor and with each depicted with a magnifying glass resting atop its cover; appropriations; the Peter sculptures including but not limited to Petertimer, 1987 (a rolling structure that looks like a scaffold with briefcases attached to it), Transporter for Sculpture (Not for Slipping, for Tripping), 1987 (made of wood and thirty-six bananas in casting resin), Retouching Box, 1987 (an obelisk type form made of press board with a paint roller stuck to it), Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1987 (a large tri-part structure made of wood, iron, mirror and lacquer), Mine II, 1987 (a kind of disco boot sitting atop a carpet atop layers of foam and wood–the title referring both to possession and to workers working in a mine below while dancers dance above); the drawings for the Peter sculptures; the early black and white paintings of the series One of you, a German in Florence, 1976-77 made after Richter’s black and white work and that include everything from an image of Sylvester Stallone to that of a spray paint can (suggesting the making of Lawrence Weiner’s, Two Minutes of Spray Paint Directly upon the Floor from a Standard Aerosol Spray Can, 1968); Orgone Box by Night, 1982 (for repairing bad paintings); New York Seen from the Bronx, 1985 (a small bronze work showing a skyline of only a few modest buildings); Snow White’s Coffin, 1989; Chicken Disco, 1988 (a small disco floor); Martin, into the corner, you should be ashamed of yourself, 1989 (on view at MOCA several versions of the life size sculptures that came in six versions with six different materials used for the heads and six different outfits); Spiderman Atelier, 1996; Siberia Hates You, 1984 (this painting makes a strong case against “ugly” being subjective); Psychobuildings, 1988 (a work of about 120 black and white photos serving as an index to sculptural process); Street Lamp for Drunks, 1988 (looking, along with the other sculptures in this series, like a drunk street lamp); War Wicked, 1983 (a painting of Santa Claus on a tank); a hotel drawing after the style of Tom of Finland with Kippenberger as a hunky, erotic Santa; the Hand-Painted Pictures, 1992 (including references to the ceramicist Hedwig Bollhagen); a 1989 Issue of Parkett featuring two artists–Jeff Koons and Kippenberger.

Leaving history, leaving art, one may find one’s way into nature. The 1990 work Now I am going into the big birch wood, my pills will soon start doing me good has been shown in a number of forms–with real birch trees and with faux birch trees as at MOCA. The piece is fairly straightforward–installed in the gallery are birch trunks standing straight up or leaning. Scattered around the trunks are sculptures of oversized pills rendered in wood. The Looking For Freedom Tour can begin and end in nature. Is it to nature that all returns? Do creative play, experiments in freedom, and defying stale, cultural paradigms necessarily lead one back to the woods, out to the desert? Kippenberger, of course, isn’t going to make it that easy. “A walk might do you good,” is a universal suggestion to the troubled or discombobulated that Kippenberger puts in its place. A walk among birches is described but the real hope is that pills will kick in and start to provide the real help. In the installation the pills are made from the wood of trees. Nature does not seem to be providing for the body, so man looks for help from chemicals made after models and from materials found in nature. Kippenberger does not set the scene after the moment help has arrived but before, so questions remain. Will the chemicals, will civilization’s tools, actually arrive in time to help, or help at all?

When one is not at home in nature, where to go? When one is not at home in culture, where to go? Kippenberger was no star-man, yet when the cosmos tug at your bloodstream it is hard to treat the earth with gravity. So, with his feet firmly on one piece of ground after another and not afraid to get his hands dirty, Kippenberger created work that found freedom in its uninhibited movement away from and towards the problematic. And when confronting one of Kippenberger’s definitive records of the indefinite, the viewer may, with some enthusiasm, anticipate agnosia.

Erik Bakke

California, 2008

One thought on “Martin Kippenberger’s Provocative Abstract Color Universe

  1. Pingback: Limited Offer Florene Modern Abstract Blue Yellow

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