Georg Baselitz: “Only in Art is the World Whole.”

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THE SPECTATOR – LONDON

Upside down and right on top: the power of George Baselitz

The British Museum’s immaculately presented ‘Germany Divided’ shows the strength of its headline act. Plus two more German shows – Renaissance Impressions at the Royal Academy and Strange Beauty at the National Gallery

‘Hercules Killing Cacus’, 1588, by Hendrik Goltzius

‘Hercules Killing Cacus’, 1588, by Hendrik Goltzius

Germany Divided: Baselitz and His Generation

British Museum, until 31 August

Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts

Royal Academy, until 8 June

Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance

National Gallery, until 11 May

It’s German Season in London, and revealingly the best of three new shows is the one dealing with the most modern period: the post-second world war era of East and West Germany and the potent art that came out of that split nation. In Room 90 is another immaculately presented British Museum show of prints and drawings, focused this time around Georg Baselitz (born 1938). Of the 90 works on display, more than a third has been donated to the BM by Count Christian Duerckheim, the remainder lent by this assiduous collector.

The show begins with Baselitz’s contemporaries and I was surprised to find myself quite liking some things by Gerhard Richter, currently the most overrated artist in the world. Not his traced-from-photos Pop Art drawings but four watercolours, his first in the medium, together with his smudgy graphite drawings of a hotel and pedal-boat riders. A flat cabinet of Sigmar Polke’s drawings comes as light relief and a series of blue watercolours by A.R. Penck is more expressionist and direct than his usual cybernetic stick-figure language. Marcus Lüpertz comes across strongest here, with savage drawings of helmet heads and a richly structured gouache entitled ‘Monument — dithyrambic’ (1976), slightly reminiscent of John Walker. This is art with real bite.

On this showing, the only good thing about Blinky Palermo is his name, but the star of the show is Baselitz, who is given the whole of the second half of this large gallery. Whatever you think of his characteristic upside-down imagery (which he initiated in 1969, conceiving, composing and executing his work thus thereafter), his best work is deeply affecting and often uncomfortable. Baselitz was inspired by Renaissance chiaroscuro woodcuts, which he began to collect and emulate, and various of these — by Urs Graf, Ugo da Carpi and Hendrik Goltzius — are exhibited beside his own efforts. These are certainly worth studying but of greater import are the more abstract images, the eagles and upside-down landscapes from the Sixties and Seventies. A show to savour.

In the RA’s Sackler Wing are more of the chiaroscuro woodcuts that exerted such a powerful influence over Baselitz, including a number from his own collection, augmented by works from the Albertina Museum in Vienna. More than 100 prints are on display in what is a valuable, if rather dry, exhibition. Anyone interested in technique will find it fascinating, but for the non-specialist the variants and repetitions may become tedious. A film of the painter and printmaker Stephen Chambers (born 1960) making a contemporary chiaroscuro woodcut helps to explain the technique in very practical terms, and this is shown in a booth off the first room of the exhibition. Essentially, this revolutionary but short-lived technique of 16th-century colour printing is all about modelling through the interplay of light and dark, with unprinted areas of the paper used for highlights.

‘Man on a Tree Downwards’, 1968/69, by Georg Baselitz
Ein neuer Typ (‘A New Type’) by Georg Baselitz, 1965 

The exhibition has been thoughtfully designed with prints in the first and last rooms hung both on the wall and displayed on angled tables beneath, affording easy access for study. Here are woodcuts by Cranach and Hans Baldung Grien, as well as Hans Burgkmair and Hans Wechtlin. I particularly liked Cranach’s ‘St Christopher’ and Dürer’s ‘Rhinoceros’. Famous paintings are reprised, such as Raphael’s ‘Miraculous Draught of Fishes’, done in red by Ugo da Carpi. (The same artist’s ‘Nymphs Bathing’, after Parmigianino, is rather beguiling.) The print is a cheap way of disseminating sculpture as well as paintings: see the Giambologna versions of Andrea Andreani. There is a lot I didn’t respond to, but among my favourites are the two architectural woodcuts by Erasmus Loy, the landscapes by Hendrik Goltzius, and Beccafumi’s ‘Group of Men and Women’, an engraving with woodcut tone.

I’m all in favour of showing familiar paintings in new contexts to enable us to look at them afresh, but the current show in the Sainsbury Wing charges a hefty admission fee for an exhibition of works drawn mostly from the National Gallery’s own collection. Admittedly, it is beefed up by a number of loans from the V&A, the British Museum and other owners, but these are almost entirely works on paper. The public is actually being asked to pay to see works that are usually on display for free. Nevertheless, on the day I visited there was a pretty good attendance at the show. Perhaps this is because the NG is so mobbed by crowds these days, to pay for the privilege is the only way to see pictures in relative peace.

The thinking behind the show questions accepted notions of beauty in historical and contemporary terms, and the patterns of taste that dictated the NG’s own collecting. Much has been made of the reconstruction of the Liesborn altarpiece (c.1470), for instance, yet all we are shown here are the panels the NG owns and some poor photos of the other panels, which are scattered through the world’s museums. Better, if you do decide to visit this show, to trawl for great paintings and not worry about themes or curators’ justifications. There are plenty of wonderful pictures here, from the oddly dramatic Paulus Potter cattle in the first room to everything by Hans Baldung Grien (especially ‘Portrait of a Man’, 1514), the Holbeins, the Altdorfer landscapes, all the Cranachs, and of course the Dürers, but most particularly ‘St Jerome’ (c.1496). There is no catalogue, but the NG has published a handy little paperback (at £9.99), crisply written by Caroline Bugler, on the German Paintings in the National Gallery. But, however much I love and support the NG, the recent habit of charging for exhibitions largely drawn from the permanent collection is undeniably a diabolical liberty.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s is selling a superb collection of 15 paintings by L.S. Lowry (1887–1976), assembled by A.J. Thompson over a 30-year period and sold now after their owner’s death last year. Subjects include a beautiful small painting of Peel Park in Salford, the trees and areas of grass reminiscent of Mark Gertler’s early landscapes, and two vivid renditions of Piccadilly Circus. There are plenty of hurrying figures and mill buildings (‘After the Fire’ is a particularly fine if bleak example), and the tall chimneys Lowry loved. The sophistication of this supposedly artless painter is everywhere apparent: viewing daily (except Saturday) until the sale on 25 March at 6 p.m.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

 ABSTRACT CRITICAL
13 March 2014

Baselitz – Farewell Bill

Written by Dan Coombs

Willem raucht nicht mehr, 2013, Oil on canvas, 118 1/8 x 108 1/4 inches / 300 x 275 cm (unframed), © Georg Baselitz. Photo Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Originating in inarticulacy and failure and pushing themselves to the brink of collapse, the heroic gestures in Baselitz’s paintings become an absurdity. In their intermingling of creativity and destruction his paintings appear a big joke at the expense of positivistic ideals. With his new paintings at Gagosian, he tries to burst his own bubble with a series of mock-heroic, upside-down monumental self-portraits, that depict his head, topped (or rather, bottomed) by a white baseball cap emblazoned with the word ZERO – apparently the brand name of his paint manufacturer. His recent “remix” style resembles giant versions of pen, ink or watercolour, the drawing delineated in filigrees of broken, Pollock-like black inky lines, the colour sploshed in with the abandon of a monstrous toddler. Both the philistines and the formalists are right – the painting is absurdly incompetent yet highly sophisticated and nuanced. The repetition and emptying out of established motifs allows Baselitz to approach the formalist condition, the illusion of art created out of nothing, emptied of meaning and being about nothing but itself. He seems to be going for a kind of pure painting, but even in such a hallowed place a nauseating sense of chaos pervades even the most decorative elements.

Untitled, 2013, India ink and watercolor on paper, 26 x 19 13/16 inches / 66.1 x 50.3 cm (unframed) © Georg Baselitz. Photo Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

The show is entitled Farewell Bill in homage to Willem de Kooning, who Baselitz describes as a “mentor”. Baselitz was held largely in contempt by the international art world until 1981 when Norman Rosenthal hung Baselitz opposite de Kooning in “The New Spirit in Painting” show at the Royal Academy. Baselitz is an obvious correlative with de Kooning as de Kooning was responsible for extending the force of the gesture in post-war painting. Drawing on the work of Soutine, de Kooning found a way to hook up bodily energy to a Picassoid cubist structure, that extended the dynamic of gesture beyond anything in European painting. As gestures became more distant from the composed armature the overall structure seemed to melt. De Kooning talked about “slipping glimpses” as though little figurative references were woven into his compositions. There is a significant difference between de Kooning’s gestures and Baselitz’s. De Kooning’s fluid strokes always seem to turn on some spatial illusion, as though the edges of his marks define bodies and nature. Baselitz’s strokes are anti-illusionistic and his gestures function more like a form of carving; he treats his canvases as opaque fields that the figure has to be separated from, rather like a sculptor who removes the excess wood to reveal the figure inside.

Baselitz’s paintings are of a piece with his sculpture, and in many ways his work has moved forward through a dialogue between the two mediums, as though he is painting sculpture and sculpting paintings. Much is revealed about Baselitz’s approach to painting through his sculpture. In the eighties he really cracked open the language and found his own space as a sculptor by employing a chainsaw to carve wood. Often the brutal speed of the process gives way to a poignant delicacy, a good example being Dresdner Frauen / Women of Dresden,1989.The cuts of the chainsaw travel across the concave faces of the women with a subtlety analogous to actual facial expressions, though they seem frozen, stoical and scarred. Baselitz’s sculptures can be remarkably abrupt. Joseph Beuys thought his contribution to the 1981 Venice Biennale, Modell fur eine Skulptur / Model for a Sculpture, 1979 -1980, was not even worthy of a first year art student. Beuys may have been embarrassed by the image – a stranded pathetic seig-heiling golem whose lower half is still encased in its block of wood. Animating the surface of the sculptures with paint, the sculptures epitomise the tragi-comic; ludicrously awkward, abrasively physical and focusing solely on conditions of human failure , but with an animating spark that has translated recently into sculptural figures that are funnier than Jeff Koons. Koons’s art is a solemn affair compared to a work like Volk Ding Zero or Dunklung Nachtung Amung Ding (both 2009) or the earlier Meine neue Mütze / My New Cap, 2003. These monumental carved figures wear white caps, blue shorts and chunky shoes. The recent sculptures are absurd and hilarious and yawping, though there is the sense of him teetering over the abyss, fighting the urge to throw himself in.

Licht wil raum mecht hern, 2013, Oil on canvas, 118 1/8 x 108 1/4 inches / 300 x 275 cm (unframed), © Georg Baselitz. Photo Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

It seems that he’s only achieved such energetic fluency in both painting and sculpture by tying himself to the things that consciousness would normally shove aside. His achievement is shadowed by the abject realities he has had to tie himself to. Baselitz is an artist who cannot avert his eyes. He forces himself to look when he wants to turn away, perhaps a way of dealing with the scenes of terror he must have witnessed as a boy when his family, like thousands of others, had to flee the Russian army who were closing in on the apocalyptic landscape of bombed-out Dresden.

Baselitz grew up in the ground zero of post war Germany, and from the get-go the demons refused to loosen their grip on his psyche. Rotting foetal dumplings , masturbating dwarves, hideously sprouting genitalia, the creatures of his early work exist within a dead black vacuum whose claustrophobic emptiness is matched only by David Lynch’s 1977 film Eraserhead. Later on he created the Heroes, with their action man heads and ridiculously encrusted leiderhosen – they seem to want to topple out of the painting, squashing the viewer. Baselitz through the late sixties pushed his paintings towards greater crudity, greater flatness. Even here he intuits that he has to push against pictorial illusion, toward the actual condition of the paintings’ flatness, not for aesthetic effect but to concretise the motif. The idea of painting images upside down came in 1969, a marvelously blunt rejection of pictorial coherence, like a rejection of rationality itself. The idea is absurd, and seemingly doomed to failure, yet he set about trying to master the idiom with initially quite realistic images, almost from the life room, of himself, his friends and family.

Untitled, 2013, Pen and ink, watercolor and ink on paper, 26 x 20 3/16 inches / 66.1 x 51.2 cm (unframed) © Georg Baselitz. Photo Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Turning images upside down makes them appear more complicated than they actually are. So for Baselitz, painting the motif upside down forces a greater simplicity and directness in order to compensate for what would normally induce a physical and perceptual confusion. In the eighties, the figures of his paintings, such as the terrifying Nachtessen in Dresden  / Supper in Dresden, 1983, which communicates directly the moment of a bomb’s impact – are pushed up against the surface of the painting, like creatures trapped beneath ice or frozen within the tableau of a medieval frieze. Baselitz dredges up motifs from Catholic Medieval Art, from Munch, from mannerism in a nightmarish mash-up of the human condition. Yet by the end of the decade, the space of his work has opened up even more, achieving even greater actuality- he starts to work on the floor, and the motifs no longer seem to have one particular orientation. Almost like a performative version of cubism, Baselitz is able to come at the painting from any angle, he can stomp and dance in his paint spattered trainers across the painting’s surface and paint his pictures by walking on them.His images from this period seem to want to stay close to the earth, like the squawking riot that is Where is the Yellow Milkjug Mrs Bird?, 1989, or Folkdance (Melancholia), 1989. These are pictures that barely want to rise above the earth, and one can feel the ground pressing through their surfaces. They were part of a highly memorable exhibition at Anthony D’Offay gallery in 1990, which still seems like a pinnacle of Baselitz’s career. It’s hard to define what makes the works from this period so special. They do not reach for the sublime, like a lot of American painting – they point in another direction, downwards. Even the folkdance which seems to take place on a blue sky is rooted to the floor. They seem not so much to create space as to give painting its own sense of place, measured by the foot.

Raum licht wiln echt mehr, 2013, Oil on canvas, 118 1/8 x 108 1/4 inches / 300 x 275 cm (unframed), © Georg Baselitz. Photo Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

The recent paintings at Gagosian are, in keeping with the “remix” style, much lighter than earlier work. Baselitz likes to leave a lot of the canvas empty and draws on it as though its paper. In some ways it’s very appealing that Baselitz has lightened up so much but the paintings are still operating as they always did. Gesture’s function is to carve and separate the figure from its ground, and even here, where the figure seems on the brink of dissolution, colour function to pull the form forward out of the canvas towards us. One painting has dissolved entirely back into an all-over dirty white ground, but the other paintings seem to leer or wince or laugh or cry out at us. Where Baselitz’s art seems grounded is within matter itself. The paintings operate by holding pictorial space in tension with materiality, but always allowing material to threaten to overwhelm any coherence. The pictures themselves embody the self in the process of dissolving back in to matter. This acceptance of the inevitable downward pull of matter generates, in opposition, an exhilarating burst of gestural energy. Each painting is the result of a clash of these dramatically opposing forces, one that takes place in real space.

Farewell Bill is on at Gagosian, Britannia Street until the 29th of March

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Georg Baselitz “The Dark Side” at Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris

October 25~2013

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac presents, in the Paris Pantin exhibition space inaugurated in October 2012, a comprehensive exhibition with new monumental sculptures and paintings by the German artist Georg Baselitz.

“What is Germany, really, in regard to traditional sculpture?” In a recent interview, Baselitz looked back to questions he asked himself in the 1970s: “The last thing I could think of in the way of pleasing or characteristic German sculpture after the Gothic period was the group Die Brücke, including Schmidt- Rottluff, Kirchner and Lehmbruck. When I finally arrived at this idea, I took a piece of wood and started work” (Georg Baselitz, 2011).

Baselitz’s first sculpture was shown in the German Pavilion at the 1980 Venice Biennale. Since then he has made only a few.

After Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin, artists such as Umberto Boccioni, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Max Ernst chose a readily malleable material when they had reached the limits of painting. Baselitz stands in this tradition of painters who leave their medium. He finds sculpture “a shorter way than painting”, to tackle certain problems; it is “more primitive, brutal, not as reserved […] as painting can sometimes be”, and “less cryptic than pictures, far more direct, more legible” (Georg Baselitz, 1983). Besides this recourse to Expressionist sculpture, an important field of reference for Baselitz’s sculpture is the fundamental nature of African sculpture, where specific basic types have been developed over a long period.

Baselitz works exclusively with wood, negating both the idea of doing justice to the material and that of the stuffy, conservative reputation of wood sculpture. “Any appealing form [..] any arty- crafty elegance or deliberate construction is taboo” (Georg Baselitz, 1987). With great physical effort, he hacks, stabs and saws the block of wood, taking no account of the grain. “For a sculpture to take shape, the wood has to be forcibly opened” (Uwe Schneede, 1993).

For the past ten years, Baselitz has cast limited editions of his wood sculptures in bronze at the long-established Hermann Noack fine art foundry in Berlin. Here the finest details of the sculpted wood are reproduced and burnished in black by the artist. On Baselitz’s black, unreflective surfaces, John-Paul Stonard remarks in his exhibition catalogue essay: “They betray the light absorbing wood from which they were originally carved; memory falls into them, rather than drama out of them.”

Georg Baselitz’s new bronzes include Sing Sang Zero, a standing couple with arms interlinked, and three fetishistic sculptures – Marokkaner, Yellow Song, Louise Fuller – showing a humanoid figure enclosed in rings. Louise Fuller is a gentle parody of the American dancer famous for her act with veils.

The monumental BDM Gruppe revives his childhood memories of three parading girls in his native town of Deutschbaselitz. John-Paul Stonard writes: “These village beauties […] could not be further from the Three Graces of antiquity, shown most famously in smooth white marble by Canova, or with classical restraint by Raphael. So much has been lost or transfigured. What has survived, from a memory that must have been filtered a thousand times, is the motif of the linked arms. Not hands held, but arms linked; a rare motif in the history of art.”

In the past months Baselitz has been working on a new series titled Black Paintings. After Blackout (2009) and The Negative (2012), the series in black would seem to be a logical step. Expressive representations of birds and human figures may be discerned in these pictures, though the shades Baselitz uses render them almost invisible. The figuration is revealed more through the highly structured surface of the heavy layers of black, dark blue and brown. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Michael Semff writes: “The artist surprises us with a radically new pictorial concept which, in almost minimalist reduction, aims to eliminate all visible contrasts. […] Time seems to have stopped here – not in the sense of standstill, but of exhaustion, calming ‘after the battle’.” Semff points out that twenty years before he created these Black Paintings, Baselitz already described his approach to painting, which still holds today: “I try to work without experience, without training, in a way I myself don’t know. I don’t want continuity … I set great store by waking sleep.” For his new series, shown in Pantin for the first time, Baselitz goes beyond this idea, confessing: “I dream of painting an invisible picture”.

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at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris

until 31 October 2013

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Above – Louise Fuller, 2013

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Yellow Song, 2013

BDM Gruppe, 2012

Flunkler Deck, 2013

Feite dunzkeleit, 2013

Rikschornfabstein, 2013

Georg Baselitz “The Dark Side” installation view at Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.

Courtesy: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg. Photo: Charles Duprat; Jochen Littkemann.

   

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Sep 11, 2013

The Dark Side

The Dark Side

‘Le Côté Sombre’ (‘The Dark Side’) brings together Georg Baselitz’s latest painting and sculpture at Thaddaeus Ropac’s sprawling new space in Pantin, a couple of miles north east of Paris.The monumental sculptures, cast in bronze after wood carvings, are less violent than Baselitz’s previous works. His signature axe and chainsaw cuts are not softened – the rough surfaces reveal the creative process of angular hacking and gauging. But their black patina gives them a slick gloss, which befits their modish surroundings.BDM Gruppe is the most striking sculpture of the new series, three black faceless figures, androgynous but for some crudely sculpted high-heeled shoes. The inspiration (and title) come from Baselitz’s childhood memories of the parading Bund Deutscher Mädel, the girls’ section of the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth), in his village of Deutschbaselitz, Saxony. As with much of his work, the grim spectre of Germany’s recent history is ever present. Baselitz’s primitive technique is testament to his roots, drawing on Volkskunst of Saxony, as well as art brut and African sculpture from his own private collection.The same sculpture was recently on display in the John Madejski Garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum and comparisons drawn with Antonio Canova’s Three Graces. BDM Gruppe is The Three Graces in negative. We recognise the three standing figures with arms intertwined, but instead of the graceful, smooth white marble of Canova’s sculpture, they are clunky, jet black textured giants.The idea of the negative, the inverted, is shot through Baselitz’s oeuvre since he first produced an upside-down canvas in 1969. In his new series, Black Paintings, the idea of the negative translates into the desire for an entirely black canvas: Baselitz claims to ‘dream of painting an invisible picture’.

The Dark Side

Black Paintings give us more than opacity. In some, colour is mixed into the black, which might recall a child’s experiment to see what colour you get when you mix all the colours together (answer: blackish). In certain lights the form of an eagle emerges, perhaps turned upside down, perhaps nose-diving into gloom. The contrast between eagle and surroundings is an almost imperceptible change of texture, a glossy shape emerging from a matt canvas of broad, sweeping strokes. In places, touches and streaks of white pierce the canvas. Between figurative and abstract, the paintings are reduced to subtle shifts in colour and texture. They are sombre, but meditative rather than anguished.

September’s first wave of vernissages in Paris revealed the traditional slew of medium sized oeuvres packed into small white cubes. Baselitz’s new works would not fit through the door. But in Ropac’s new, 2000 square-metre space they are strangely diminished, dwarfed by the new trend for über-galleries on the city peripheries, designed to showcase large-scale trophy art.

‘Georg Baselitz: The Dark Side’ is at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac: Paris Pantin until 31 October 2013.

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Q&A wtih GEORG BASELITZ : Portrait of an Artist Still Trying to Grow

October 14, 1995|KRISTINE McKENNA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The exhibition of work by Georg Baselitz opening Sunday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art offers Angelenos a comprehensive look at one of the most influential artists to emerge from post World War II Germany.

Best known, perhaps, for making paintings with images that appear upside down–a strategy he began using in 1969 to drain objects of their meaning and transform them into shapes–Baselitz has hammered out a consistently experimental and distinctive melding of abstraction and figuration. The show, which comes here from New York’s Guggenheim Museum, draws from 30 years of Baselitz’s career.

Interviewing the 57-year-old artist through a translator in one of the LACMA galleries where his work is hung, one encounters a beautifully dressed man who’s remarkably amiable considering that he just completed a long plane ride that left him with a severe headache. An in-depth conversation about various brands of aspirin preceded the following discussion of his work.

Question: In a recent interview you made a point of identifying yourself as a specifically German artist. What about your sensibility is recognizably German?

Answer: For years people said that about me, so I finally thought about it and realized it’s true. With artists there really are differences that have to do with nationality and I am German–I have no sense of myself as a citizen of the world.

Q: How did growing up in the shadow of World War II shape your sensibility?

A: I was 7 years old when the war ended, so my childhood took place in a climate of fear. The primary thing then was survival–how do you get some soup? Now that I’m older, I’m beginning to look at the larger implications of that war–and Germany itself finally seems ready to address its past. The German people feel great shame about the war, and as to whether that wound of shame will ever heal, I think what will happen is that it will be replaced. Events in the world and another peoples’ shame will supersede it. The human race seems to be evolving in not a good direction.

Q: What drove you as a young artist that no longer seems so important?

A: Early on, I felt it necessary to be explicit, crass and dramatic in trying to make clear what I wanted to do. I was also intent on rejecting the dominant styles of that period–Social Realism and Abstract Expressionism–but that’s part of the coming-of-age of every young artist. In this kind of rejection you make mistakes, but you must make them to find your freedom. I no longer feel required to work that way, and my work is less and less a reaction to the outside and to what other artists are doing. Rather, I find myself looking to my own past, repeating, correcting, deepening. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to wander through my past, and I find myself developing a more responsible attitude toward my work. I want to work more consciously.

Q: The American art world has an image of you as something of an aristocrat. How do you feel about that?

A: Me? An aristocrat? I don’t understand that at all because in Germany I’m a farmer! During the war my father had to go through the family records in order to prove his lineage to the Nazis, and believe me, there were no aristocrats in the family. My ancestors were all middle-class, bourgeoise priests and teachers.

Q: You’re not an aristocrat, yet you live in a castle with 120 rooms?

A: Well, that’s what is available in Germany. Nobody really wants to live in them, so artists often end up with them.

Q: In the catalogue for this show, when you discuss artists you consider your peers, writers you admire and artists who’ve influenced you, you don’t mention a single woman. Even all your dealers are men. Do you consider yourself a sexist?

A: If you have a specific example, I can respond–actually, I have a very good example. When I was a student I saw work by an artist named Joan Mitchell and I loved him a lot. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered Mitchell was a woman–and I thought nevertheless, the work is good!

Q: How old were you when you began to have a sense of yourself as an artist?

A: Fourteen. My parents were both teachers and my father spoke several languages, so I was raised in a fairly intellectual environment. In Germany, when you turn 14, you must decide whether to go to a trade school or go on to university, and it was then I decided to be a painter.

Another change took place then too. My uncle was a priest and I was raised a Protestant. As a child there’s no way to reflect on what you’re being taught because it’s all you know. But at 14 I began to wrestle with the question: Should I run away from the church, or should I embrace it? I found the milieu of the church frightening, and so I escaped. Another problem was that I don’t believe in God.

Q: In a recent interview you made the comment: “I don’t understand Christian paintings–people flying around in fairy-tale clothes. I don’t know what it means and it has no importance for me.” Why have millions of people over several centuries chosen to embrace this belief system?

A: There are powerful religions, and there are less powerful religions that fail. There is a conflict between Germans–particularly Germans north of the Alps–and Christianity because Germanic folklore revolves around pagan things that emanate from under the earth. In Christianity, things come from above. I’ve always felt that if there really is such a thing as freedom–which is what people are looking for in religion–that it won’t come from the sky. I believe it will come from the earth, and that is where my work is rooted.

Of course, every imperial religion has denounced the pagans because they had other gods, and unfortunately, the pagans disappeared and everyone became Christian. But this is where artists come in–they bring all things of the past to light again. Every artist functions as a medium, and it’s not something they’re in control of because it’s too valuable and sensitive to be controlled.

* Georg Baselitz’s paintings will be on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Sunday through Jan. 7. (213) 857-6000.

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Georg Baselitz “The Dark Side” at Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris

October 25~2013

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac presents, in the Paris Pantin exhibition space inaugurated in October 2012, a comprehensive exhibition with new monumental sculptures and paintings by the German artist Georg Baselitz.

“What is Germany, really, in regard to traditional sculpture?” In a recent interview, Baselitz looked back to questions he asked himself in the 1970s: “The last thing I could think of in the way of pleasing or characteristic German sculpture after the Gothic period was the group Die Brücke, including Schmidt- Rottluff, Kirchner and Lehmbruck. When I finally arrived at this idea, I took a piece of wood and started work” (Georg Baselitz, 2011).

Baselitz’s first sculpture was shown in the German Pavilion at the 1980 Venice Biennale. Since then he has made only a few.

After Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin, artists such as Umberto Boccioni, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Max Ernst chose a readily malleable material when they had reached the limits of painting. Baselitz stands in this tradition of painters who leave their medium. He finds sculpture “a shorter way than painting”, to tackle certain problems; it is “more primitive, brutal, not as reserved […] as painting can sometimes be”, and “less cryptic than pictures, far more direct, more legible” (Georg Baselitz, 1983). Besides this recourse to Expressionist sculpture, an important field of reference for Baselitz’s sculpture is the fundamental nature of African sculpture, where specific basic types have been developed over a long period.

Baselitz works exclusively with wood, negating both the idea of doing justice to the material and that of the stuffy, conservative reputation of wood sculpture. “Any appealing form [..] any arty- crafty elegance or deliberate construction is taboo” (Georg Baselitz, 1987). With great physical effort, he hacks, stabs and saws the block of wood, taking no account of the grain. “For a sculpture to take shape, the wood has to be forcibly opened” (Uwe Schneede, 1993).

For the past ten years, Baselitz has cast limited editions of his wood sculptures in bronze at the long-established Hermann Noack fine art foundry in Berlin. Here the finest details of the sculpted wood are reproduced and burnished in black by the artist. On Baselitz’s black, unreflective surfaces, John-Paul Stonard remarks in his exhibition catalogue essay: “They betray the light absorbing wood from which they were originally carved; memory falls into them, rather than drama out of them.”

Georg Baselitz’s new bronzes include Sing Sang Zero, a standing couple with arms interlinked, and three fetishistic sculptures – Marokkaner, Yellow Song, Louise Fuller – showing a humanoid figure enclosed in rings. Louise Fuller is a gentle parody of the American dancer famous for her act with veils.

The monumental BDM Gruppe revives his childhood memories of three parading girls in his native town of Deutschbaselitz. John-Paul Stonard writes: “These village beauties […] could not be further from the Three Graces of antiquity, shown most famously in smooth white marble by Canova, or with classical restraint by Raphael. So much has been lost or transfigured. What has survived, from a memory that must have been filtered a thousand times, is the motif of the linked arms. Not hands held, but arms linked; a rare motif in the history of art.”

In the past months Baselitz has been working on a new series titled Black Paintings. After Blackout (2009) and The Negative (2012), the series in black would seem to be a logical step. Expressive representations of birds and human figures may be discerned in these pictures, though the shades Baselitz uses render them almost invisible. The figuration is revealed more through the highly structured surface of the heavy layers of black, dark blue and brown. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Michael Semff writes: “The artist surprises us with a radically new pictorial concept which, in almost minimalist reduction, aims to eliminate all visible contrasts. […] Time seems to have stopped here – not in the sense of standstill, but of exhaustion, calming ‘after the battle’.” Semff points out that twenty years before he created these Black Paintings, Baselitz already described his approach to painting, which still holds today: “I try to work without experience, without training, in a way I myself don’t know. I don’t want continuity … I set great store by waking sleep.” For his new series, shown in Pantin for the first time, Baselitz goes beyond this idea, confessing: “I dream of painting an invisible picture”.

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at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris

until 31 October 2013

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Above – Louise Fuller, 2013

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Yellow Song, 2013

BDM Gruppe, 2012

Flunkler Deck, 2013

Feite dunzkeleit, 2013

Rikschornfabstein, 2013

Georg Baselitz “The Dark Side” installation view at Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.

Courtesy: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris/Salzburg. Photo: Charles Duprat; Jochen Littkemann.

– See more at: http://moussemagazine.it/gbaselitz-thaddaeus-ropac/#sthash.FTKNWfe7.dpuf

https://accounts.google.com/o/oauth2/postmessageRelay?parent=http%3A%2F%2Fmoussemagazine.it#rpctoken=371513799&forcesecure=1 – See more at: http://moussemagazine.it/gbaselitz-thaddaeus-ropac/#sthash.FTKNWfe7.dpuf

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1995 interview

ART

New Again: Georg Baselitz

By Kenzi Abou-Sabe, Deborah Gimelson

Photography Richard J. Burbridge

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ABOVE: GEORG BASELITZ IN INTERVIEW, JUNE 1995. PORTRAIT BY RICHARD J. BURBRIDGE.

Georg Baselitz would like you to know that he embodies individualism. Rarely has another artist shirked categorization as surely and as vehemently as Baselitz. When we interviewed the German artist in June 1995, he was awaiting his very first retrospective exhibit on American soil at the Guggenheim. Now in his 70s, Baselitz hasn’t stopped creating, and his work has been exhibited in the US 105 times since then. Next week, on March 29th, Baselitz’s latest exhibition at the Gagosian in London will come to a close. Titled “Farewell Bill,” the show focuses on a series of upside-down, mirror-image, and perspective-jarring self-portraits, painted in bright strokes of color as homage to the late artist Willem de Kooning. The twin desires that Baselitz displayed to us in ’95—to be unpredictable and to shock—are clearly still at the forefront of his aesthetic ideology. Much of the chaos of Baselitz’s early paintings is still there, but they are both simpler and more complex in their characteristic distemper.—Kenzi Abou-Sabe
Raw Nerve Art
By Deborah Gimelson

As a German artist born during the time of Hitler’s Germany, Georg Baselitz has had to struggle with history itself to find his own way into history. He has taken the repression that came with the aftermath of the war and exploded it in his work. He is one of those artists who is essentially still unknown, even if his work is famous. The image of his work is imparted in the minds of all who have seen it, but the reasons for the work, and the man’s background, have not yet truly been discovered in this country. His retrospective, which just opened at the Guggenheim Museum, is one of the first real chances we’ve had in America to seriously discover what this tough, anxiety-producing art is really about. Here, in a two-part interview, an American art writer, Deborah Gimelson, takes on the heavyweight and finds out some of the answers and some of the mysteries.

Part One
Georg Baselitz seems almost too affable for a guy whose art—from eagles to men to dogs, much of it upside down—has torn through the fabric of traditional German painting and sculpture. His canvases and sculptures have managed to imprint their agitated, often tortured residue on the consciousness of contemporary art—a consciousness the artist is all too aware is not always accepting of his uncomfortable vision. His response to viewers finding his work ugly follows the line of reasoning he has adhered to from early in his career. If he is affecting someone so strongly and negatively, if they remember what they saw, says Baselitz, he must be doing something right.

After a successful, three-decade career on the Continent, Baselitz is having his first bona fide American retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, from May 26 through September 17. Although it appears to have taken a long time for a retrospective of his work to reach our shores, that is not the kind of problem that engages Baselitz, as he made clear in the interview that follows.

DEBORAH GIMELSON: I wish I spoke German, but I don’t. Can we try it in English, with translation, and see how it goes?

TRANSLATOR: Yes. O.K. [Editor’s Note: In the first part of this interview, conducted via telephone on March 22, the interpreter was Mr. Baselitz’s assistant, Detlev Gretenkort.]

GIMELSON: All right. Congratulations on the upcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim. You’ve had enormous success in Europe for many years, and I wonder why you think it took so long to have a show like this in America.

GEORG BASELITZ: I don’t have the feeling that it took such a long time.

GIMELSON: Even though we tend to give retrospectives to people in their thirties and forties in America?

BASELITZ: Lichtenstein was much older than I am when he got his first retrospective in Europe.

GIMELSON: [laughs] Uh-huh! O.K. What do you think the differences are between showing in Europe and showing in America?

BASELITZ: For me, America is a big unknown situation. I don’t see art as entertainment, so I don’t know exactly how to react.

GIMELSON: Because you don’t see art as entertainment? I don’t quite understand what you’re getting at. Do you think that American audiences view art as entertainment more than as art? Is that what you’re saying?

BASELITZ: Most of what comes from the States to Europe has something to do with entertainment. I can’t imagine artists in the United States having the same kind of isolated position that we have here in Europe. I have a feeling one lives more publically in the States.

GIMELSON: Hmmm. Anyway, I know you’re from Eastern Europe. I wonder what it meant to you to grow up in the postwar East. What kind of opportunities and what kind of obstacles were put in your path?

BASELITZ: When the war ended in 1945, the place that had been our home, which had been in the center of Germany, became and still remains a part of the Czechoslovakian border and the Polish border. I was seven years old. I grew up in the Eastern Zone, which became the German Democratic Republic in 1949.

GIMELSON: I’m trying to get at what it was like for you. In America there is, and has been, a resistance to German art of your postwar generation. I’m not so sure that this resistance only has to do with the idea of Nazism, which was happening while you were growing up. I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that certain kinds of art have been associated with fascism—for example, expressionism. You’ve been referred to as the greatest living neo-expressionist. How do you react to being called that?

BASELITZ: I became an artist because of the possibility it gave me to develop in another way, because I didn’t want to follow the same lines the others around me did. I was educated in the former German Democratic Republic, which meant that an individual figure had to be… like a soldier in the army, you know?

GIMELSON: Part of the bigger picture.

BASELITZ: Yes, part of the bigger picture. First, they tried for about a year to make me understand that I had to make a contribution to this system. Then after a year, they found out that I was too crazy for such things, and they dropped me out of school. [Gimelson laughs] So that was how I started at the Academy [of Fine and Applied Art] in East Berlin. Then I went to West Berlin and continued to study there.

GIMELSON: When did you go to West Berlin?

BASELITZ: That was in 1957. And there I found out that Germany is a kind of province. I didn’t know anything about expressionism, about the Bauhaus and Dada and surrealism. I was uneducated, so to speak—and everybody else was more or less uneducated, too. At the art school [the Academy of Fine Arts] in West Berlin, the great influences were coming from Paris. Those kinds of people didn’t exist anymore in Germany, because they had all gone into exile. I got sort of interested in this French thing, but I soon found out that existentialism was not congruent with my thinking. Then, in 1958 at the art school, there was a great American exhibition. It was a very big exhibition that was organized by MoMA [the Museum of Modern Art], with all these paintings by Pollock, Motherwell, and Rothko.

GIMELSON: The abstract expressionists.

BASELITZ: Yes. It was travelling all through Europe. It was the biggest and most powerful exhibition I had seen so far, and immediately I found out that even what I saw at this exhibition didn’t work for me, because I didn’t want to be colonized. So I forced myself to think about where I come from, and what has meaning for me.

GIMELSON: At that point, who did you identify with as an artist?

BASELITZ: I did not always trust my teachers, because I found them too weak. I was looking for something that could take me in a new direction, for things that I could admire. And because it was so hard to find this, I became a sort of outsider. That’s why I began to identify with the insane, “outsider” artists.

GIMELSON: The outsider artists in Germany, you mean?

BASELITZ: Not only in Germany, everywhere.

GIMELSON: Who were some of these people, specifically? Did they have names, or were they anonymous?

BASELITZ: Many of them were known, like Carl Fredrik Hill and August Strindberg, for example, and many others. There is a book that was written by Hans Prinzhorn and published in 1923 called The Artistry of the Mentally Ill, where you can find some of them.

GIMELSON: Ummm, all this is very interesting, but I want to get back to the subject of being a young artist for a minute. Do you have any contact with younger artists who are coming up today?

BASELITZ: Yes, I’m a professor at the art school in Berlin.

GIMELSON: And do you find that many of the obstacles you confronted as a young artist are similar to those that these young artists have to deal with today?

BASELITZ: I have always been aware of different movements and directions in art. But, in general, I’m always bored by any kind of generalization when it comes to artists. I think that there are just single individuals, who are valuable, and they work outside of any group.

GIMELSON: You mean those who develop as great artists.

BASELITZ: Yes.

GIMELSON: In some circles you’re well-known as a collector of African art. I wonder how those images, or that primordial energy from them, filter into your work. Can you describe the transaction between the two things, your collecting and your own work, and why collecting is so important to you as an artist?

BASELITZ: I have always had the feeling that other people are too stupid to discover interesting things. That’s why I do it myself. I think of collecting as a way to show that I understand what’s important better than others do.

GIMELSON: How many pieces are in your collection?

BASELITZ: Oh, I have collected so many different things.

GIMELSON: I’m sure, and for many years, right?

BASELITZ: Yes. At first, I started collecting my artist friends, artists like myself who nobody had yet noticed. I believe that I was the first to collect the very early [A.R.] Penck paintings. In everything, all I am collecting, so to speak, are my friends—artist friends. Right now, I’m focusing on African sculptures more or less from the Congo area. I’m also collecting 16th-century prints from the Ecole de Fontainebleau. Nowhere in my collection do I, say, have a Renoir painting. Because everybody knows that this is a good painter without me having to demonstrate it.

GIMELSON: I’d like to talk now about some people who have been intricately involved in your career. You met Michael Werner [who has continuously represented Baselitz since the beginning of the artist’s career and was influential in introducing his work to America] very early on. I’d like to know what the atmosphere was like in German art circles at that time, and what you think you and Werner saw in each other to forge such a strong and long-term association.

BASELITZ: We were from the same generation and the same nationality. Nobody had one penny in their pocket then. It was a very difficult time, economically speaking. When Werner saw a painting of mine, such as Die grosse Nacht im Eimer [“Big Night Down the Drain” 1962-1963], which back then nobody wanted and everybody thought was ridiculous, he realized that this was the right provocation, that it represented the feeling of the times in the right way.

GIMELSON: Do you have any specific stories about how you and Michael worked together?

BASELITZ: Michael was the first person I worked with who had something to do with art dealing. This was in the early ’60s. I remember that Michael told me about a famous collector, and Michael set up an appointment for us to meet. This man looked around the room and at my pictures. Then he said, “Young man, why are you doing these horrible things? Look out the window. There are nice girls out there. It’s springtime. Look at how beautiful the world can be. You’ll ruin your health by smoking so much and doing such tortured things.” The he left, embarrassed, without buying anything. And half an hour later, Werner came over, and I told him what had just happened. We agreed that this meeting had been a success.

GIMELSON: What do you feel is the absolute best situation, the optimal physical structure, for your work to be seen in?

BASELITZ: If my images stick in peoples’ heads, if they know the image without even looking at the image.

GIMELSON: Well, we should probably stop for now, since we have a second meeting for this interview in person when you come to New York next week. You know, I’ve seen you in Berlin a couple of times. You winked at me on the street once. [to the translator] Don’t tell him that! [translator tells Baselitz]

BASELITZ: On what occasion?

GIMELSON: The “Metropolis” exhibition four years ago.

BASELITZ: Are you sure it wasn’t somebody else? Because I don’t have a beard any longer.

GIMELSON: No, it was you. See you on Monday.

Part two
Curious to see what the dynamic of the artist who has made so many dynamic images is like in person, I sat down with Baselitz face-to-face in Interview‘s wood-paneled library to resume our talk. Baselitz drank espresso doppio and sometimes got up between translations of his responses to look at the selection of books on the library shelves; the first thing he did was make sure there was something about Baselitz on the shelves. Dressed in a well-made, wide-wale dark blue corduroy suit, dark shirt, and expensive silk tie, his current image is hard to reconcile with the Baselitz who reputedly, in his youth, hung out in Berlin bars with the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. Now more country squire than social revolutionary (he spends most of his time in a castle in Derneburg, where his studio is in a series of connecting, high-ceilinged, 17th-century rooms), he still wages an aesthetic war with his stark, volatile, and often primitive images. [Editor’s note: The following interview took place on March 27 in the Interview library. On this occasion, the interpreter was Waltraud Raninger, a translator who works with the Guggenheim Museum SoHo.]

GIMELSON: I want to begin this part of the interview by asking you about Francis Bacon. Now that Bacon is dead, many people consider you the most important artist of senior stature working in Europe today. How do you feel about this?

BASELITZ: I don’t know who made up this sort of greatest-hits list for artists. If one artist isn’t moving forward anymore, then it’s assumed another one is going to take their place. With Bacon’s death, a whole genre of art died. Does that mean now that I’m the next one to die?

GIMELSON: [laughs] I hope not.

BASELITZ: So do I.

GIMELSON: Can you talk a little bit about what you think neo-expressionism, a term that has often been used to describe your work, means in Europe, and what it means in America, and how the two notions of this genre differ?

BASELITZ: First of all, I am not a representative of anything. When art historians or critics or the public put somebody in a drawer like this, it has a tranquilizing, paralyzing effect. Artists are individuals. They have ideas, and the conventions for one’s self as an individual are not for a group. There are always those who follow the group, but they belong in the margins. I refuse to be placed within, or added to, one particular school.

GIMELSON: Why do you think it is then that people have tried to slot you into that neo-expressionist mold?

BASELITZ: I don’t know. When I began as an artist, I already did not like expressionism, or abstract expressionism, because abstract painting had already been done. I did not want to belong to any one group or the other, and I’m not one or the other.

GIMELSON: Where do you think the main impetus was coming from in your work when you were in your twenties, as opposed to now, when you’re in your fifties? What were the forces working on you then, and the obsessions, and what’s different about them now?

BASELITZ: These forces are biologically different now than they were then. In the beginning, the energy involved to create came from my reaction to the work of other artists. The force behind this was aggression. The art that I saw was great, but I had to reject it, because I could not continue in the same direction. So I had to do something entirely different. It had to be so different, so extreme, that those who loved pop art, for instance, hated me. And this was my strength. Later, it again worked in a biological manner. But in no way was it just my reactions against things.

GIMELSON: I am wondering how you would like this exhibition at the Guggenheim to represent your work.

BASELITZ: In a place like the Guggenheim, I would like to be a representative of arte povera. This would be my ideal. Unfortunately, God had something else in mind. I’m a painter, and this space is completely inappropriate for my work. But in the end, maybe this is also an advantage, because we have seen so many exhibits in recent years where the exhibition design was aesthetically beautiful. In this case, if someone wants to get something out of the exhibit, they must neglect the aesthetics and look at my pictures.

But I do not have a philosophy about retrospectives. Of course, I cannot change what I have done. What I am doing today, this I can change, in view of whatever I have done before. My retrospectives are like a series of ghosts. And for me to see my work collected like this is like entering a haunted house.

GIMELSON: You have spent your career defying tradition and structure, constantly remaking yourself or your art through your various paintings and sculptures. Yet in other aspects of your life, traditional structures, like family, are very important. Can you talk about this?

BASELITZ: As a human being, I am a citizen, but as an artist, I am asocial. A citizen sticks to conventions, does whatever is social. Artists, of course, must reject all conventions. I see no differently in reconciling the best of both of these worlds.

GIMELSON: If you met somebody who’s never heard of you or seen your work, how would you describe what you do every day?

BASELITZ: I would say I am somebody who builds furniture like a carpenter with canvas and color. No, I would say I build buildings or houses like a bricklayer with canvas and paint. This is a very good question.

THIS ARTICLE INTIALLY APPEARED IN THE JUNE 1995 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.

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GOETHE INSTITUTE GERMANY

Georg Baselitz Rebellion by Standing Reality on Its Head

Special exhibition
Special exhibition “Georg Baselitz: Nature as Motif” | © Picture alliance

Painting motifs upside-down became his hallmark. Georg Baselitz is less concerned with the recognition factor of his technique and far more with depicting the world as he has experienced it: an upside-down world.

There are artists and writers who struggle with a theme throughout their lives, returning again and again to the same motifs and wrestling with that which eludes depiction. Many soon end up stagnating and become uninteresting. But those however, who continually take different perspectives, discover unconventional means and thereby illuminate their themes in new ways – these artists’ works never cease to ask interesting questions. Kafka was such a writer, Georg Baselitz is such a painter.

The process of painting as process of insight

The fact that Baselitz is not concerned with an interpretation of his subjects, but with the process of painting itself, can be seen in his works: his canvases appear unfinished by means of paint can edges, shoe prints and over-painting. Baselitz rejects clear-cut contours and cleanly-painted figures, since the foreground is taken up by the how and not the what. His first sculpture, which he presented in 1980 in Venice, was entitled Modell für eine Skulptur (Model for a Sculpture), half of which still remained un-carved in the wood block. The “how” enables us to follow the progress of the work and Baselitz’s thought process, which among other things leads to the insight that the “what” can be assertion pure and simple, and therefore absolutely must be called into question.

A German-German-German biography

Even as a child, Baselitz experienced the arbitrariness of such claims to truth. He was born into the Nazi dictatorship as Hans-Georg Kern on 23 January 1938, in Deutschbaselitz in Saxony. His parents were teachers – he remembers the schoolhouse where he lived with them: “A banner was stretched around the building with ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ (‘one people, one empire, one leader’) written on it.”

The next truth was presented to him in the form of GDR socialism. In 1956 he began studying art in East Berlin and concentrated on Picasso, but not the way his teachers intended. When after two semesters Baselitz submitted “his” Picassos of the war years in Paris, they saw only the decadence of the west. Baselitz was expelled from the academy on the grounds of “social immaturity” and continued studying in West Berlin.

But the West also confronted him with “truths.” Pollock and de Kooning were the new heroes, but however much they impressed Baselitz, he was not inclined to emulate them. Baselitz, for whom being a follower had a bad aftertaste, encountered the truths of this world with distrust. Someone that sceptical is compelled to find his own truth – and Baselitz, young and aggressive, set off in search of it. In 1961 he changed his name to Baselitz after his birthplace.

Rebellion without penalty

In 1962 he married Elke Kretzschmar and began to do something that “simply no one wanted at all,” he says. No recognition, not exactly a pleasant time, Die große Nacht im Eimer (A Big Night Down the Drain) had come. In 1963, the picture of a man masturbating was confiscated from the Galerie Werner und Katz in Berlin, as was the painting Nackter Mann (Naked Man) that shows a nude with an oversized, erect penis. Baselitz was prosecuted. He was forced to find another way of expressing his scepticism if he was to avoid getting into trouble with the state prosecutor’s office each and every time he rebelled. In 1969 he created his fracture paintings (Frakturbilder): figures he cut up into strips and put back together in displaced order. The irritating effect of madness ultimately led to his upside-down take on reality, which was to become his hallmark: in that same year he painted an upside-down motif for the first time – Der Wald auf dem Kopf (The Forest Upside-Down). Rebellion by turning reality upside-down, and it worked: formally, Baselitz overcame concrete meaning and thereby created his own, personal alternative to the ideologically charged debates over realism and abstraction. He turned reality on its head and thereby rendered it abstract – it was this idea that made him famous.

“Strangely upright”

Baselitz knew he was on the right track. Starting in 2005, he began to revise his work and at the same time to deepen it. He then sometimes paints “strangely upright”, as he puts it. He also now finally feels stable enough to quote the great American artists of Abstract Expressionism and squeezes his figures out of the paint tube onto the black canvas, Action Painting without splattering. Negative images arise with reversed brightness values and the black eagles that convey the depressing aura of an oil-tanker accident. On the occasion of his major retrospective exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Baselitz, now 76, finds succinct words for his revisions of the past: he considers his works over and over again and understands that “it could all have been done differently.” And because Baselitz doesn’t stop at this insight, he goes and does things differently.

A survey of Baselitz’ work Back Then, In Between and Today – Damals, dazwischen und heute is offered by the exhibition of the same name in the Haus der Kunst, Munich, until 1 February 2015.

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nytimes

Photo

Georg Baselitz in his studio. Credit Martin Müller/Gagosian Gallery

LONDON — In the autumn of 1958, an East German art student ventured into an exhibition of American paintings and was staggered by what he saw. Hanging on wall after wall of a West Berlin academy were works by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and other Abstract Expressionists.

“I found those pictures so overwhelming, so totally unexpected, so different from the experience of my own world at the time that I felt totally desperate, because I thought I’d never stand a chance of doing well compared to those painters,” Georg Baselitz recalled in an interview at the Gagosian Gallery here.

“The dimensions, to us, were just huge: an expression of freedom,” Mr. Baselitz said, speaking through a translator. “Our canvases felt pathetic, tiny.”

More than a half-century later, Mr. Baselitz carries that experience with him. Now 76, he is being honored with three London exhibitions: “Farewell Bill,” a tribute to De Kooning is at Gagosian through March 29; “Germany Divided: Baselitz and His Generation,” through Aug. 31 at the British Museum, features more than 40 of Mr. Baselitz’s works on paper; and he has lent some 16th-century prints to the Royal Academy of Arts’s “Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts From the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna,” which runs from March 15 through June 8.

Photo

One of the artist’s works that is part of  “Farewell Bill,” a tribute to Willem de Kooning. Credit Georg Baselitz/Jochen Littkemann, via Gagosian Gallery

For much of his life, Mr. Baselitz has created work around one central theme: the pain of growing up in the ruins of Nazi Germany. He has produced raw and sometimes shocking art to express it.

His Gagosian show is full of large, jubilant canvases covered with messy swirls of bright paint that resemble 1970s de Koonings. Most are upside-down self-portraits in which the artist wears a baseball cap marked “Zero” — a reference to his brand of paint, but also, according to the catalog, to “Zero Hour,” a phrase used in post-1945 Germany to indicate a clean slate.

“As a German, by definition, you’re always linked to the Holocaust, linked to the Nazis,” Mr. Baselitz said. He added: “I was only 7 when World War II was over. Yet people nowadays still associate my generation with the past.”

Along with Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer, Mr. Baselitz is part of a group of German artists who “took it upon themselves to reinvent a broken culture,” said Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner of the Michael Werner Gallery in New York, which represented Mr. Baselitz until 2008. Although Mr. Baselitz has never been an auction darling on the scale of Mr. Richter, he is an influential post-war painter. The Paris dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who represents Mr. Baselitz in Continental Europe, said he could not imagine “any other artist who confronted Germany with its own past the way Baselitz did.”

The past has never been absent from his work. Mr. Baselitz’s father, a primary-school teacher who fought for Germany in the war and lost an eye, was banned from teaching in what became East Germany. Their relationship was tense. “If your father was a Nazi and a perpetrator, the problem between the two generations becomes even more serious,” Mr. Baselitz said.

He started to express this aggression. In 1963, he completed a painting of an ugly, masturbating male called ‘‘Big  Night Down the Drain.’’ It was included  in his first gallery show, which drew  public attention, and was promptly confiscated (with another work) by the district attorney.

In the late ’60s, Mr. Baselitz started to develop what would become a trademark motif — depicting subjects upside down in a style that appeared both figurative and abstract.

“He found his perfect solution by inverting,” said Stephen Coppel, the curator of the British Museum show. You recognized the work’s subject, he added, but were also made to “look at the marks by which it was created.” The British Museum show includes drawings and prints of upside-down figures, eagles and trees.

Notoriety came at the 1980 Venice Biennale, when Mr. Baselitz exhibited his first sculpture — a totemic figure with a raised arm — that some viewed as depicting Hitler. Since then, he has continued to sculpt as well as provoke.

Age has not made Mr. Baselitz less blunt. In January 2013, he told Der Spiegel that women “don’t paint very well,” though they excelled at disciplines such as science. The remarks caused a stir, with journalists, academics and women in the arts accusing Mr. Baselitz of sexism, accusations that have resurfaced on Twitter, along with the original interview.

Asked in the interview at the Gagosian here to comment, Mr. Baselitz replied that while “the most beautiful women are those created in art by men,” female artists depicted unseemly subjects. The 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi, for instance, showed men being “castrated and decapitated,” he said, while contemporary artists like Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas made everyone, including women, “look extremely ugly.”

“It could be that in the future things will improve,” he concluded.

Norman Rosenthal — who organized a Baselitz retrospective at the Royal Academy in 2007, and ran the exhibitions program there at the time — said Mr. Baselitz was, like Pablo Picasso, someone who “doesn’t care about being politically correct, cares about his own private, personal obsessions, and expresses them magnificently in painting and sculpture and printmaking.”

Gagosian’s London director, Stefan Ratibor, said the gallery had staged seven previous Baselitz exhibitions in New York, London and Rome.

“We wouldn’t do a show on this scale if we weren’t confident in his market,” he said. “Of the artists we work with, he’s one of the greats.”

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SPIEGEL ONLINEBaselitz also wasn't too thrilled about the art market in Germany.

01/25/2013 06:36 PM

German Artist Georg Baselitz

Baselitz also wasn't too thrilled about the art market in Germany. ‘My Paintings are Battles’

By Susanne Beyer and Ulrike Knöfel

German painter Georg Baselitz has made a name for himself — and a fortune — by being provocative. In a SPIEGEL interview, he stays true to form by bashing Germans and their museums and saying that the best artists have less talent and can’t be women.

The house of Georg Baselitz, one of the world’s most important painters, is hard to find. It’s on the waterfront of Ammersee, a lake near Munich, and hidden behind other villas. Designed by Basel architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, it’s probably one of the most beautiful residences in Germany. Fearing architecture tourists, Baselitz doesn’t allow journalists to photograph his house. The 75-year-old meets with SPIEGEL in his studio next door. Much of what he says seems cantankerous, but he clearly enjoys his tirades, which he delivers with a mischievous smile.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Baselitz, you’ve just turned 75, and you’ve been famous for the last 50 years. At the beginning, you were the painter with the wild and dangerous works, and the police even confiscated some of your paintings. Now you are lionized, and your works are coveted around the world. What’s harder for an artist to deal with, rejection or recognition?Baselitz: First of all, I seriously doubt that what you say about recognition is true.

SPIEGEL: Gallery owners and collectors are both crazy about you, and museums are constantly singing your praises.

Baselitz: But not the media.

SPIEGEL: Come now, you’re written about often.

Baselitz: Is that so? I’ve had some major exhibitions abroad lately, and yet there was hardly a word in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), for example. And that was only because I had previously said that the relevant editors at the FAZ suffered from pandemic mental enfeeblement.

SPIEGEL: What makes you say that?

Baselitz: I received the graphics prize at Art Cologne three years ago. Before that, it had been awarded to people who undoubtedly deserved recognition, such as Sigmar Polke. But, in my case, the FAZ wrote that it was a petty cash prize.

SPIEGEL: The prize money is €10,000 ($13,400), which is a paltry amount when compared to the sums your paintings fetch.

Baselitz: The prize money is the same each year, but when I get it, it’s called “petty cash.” I think that’s contemptuous and insulting to the people who award the prize and to the graphics medium.

SPIEGEL: You’re one of the most famous and expensive painters in the world. But you seem to notice your critics more than your acclaim.

Baselitz: For me, it’s about more than that; it’s about Germans’ relationship with art. For instance, in Germany, we often hear the absurd complaint that museums don’t have the money to buy paintings. Of course, I’m not talking about me and my paintings. There are, after all, more popular painters in this country.

SPIEGEL: Only one of them is more expensive: Gerhard Richter.

Baselitz: Much more expensive. And he certainly pays more taxes than I do. Despite all the taxes people pay, there supposedly isn’t any money in this country for art. Of course, this makes an artist ask himself: “Well, then, what are you doing with the 100 million I pay each year? What happened to that money?” And he doesn’t get an answer.

SPIEGEL: Now you’re no longer complaining about the media, but about museums.

Baselitz: Yes, I am grumbling a bit. The Rhineland was once the center of art in Germany. Then it was Berlin, but now things have become quiet there, as well. Still, Berlin has the National Gallery, a name that suggests that the museum ought to be there for national art. There are similar museums all over the world, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the MoMA in New York and the Reina Sofia in Madrid. They all fulfill their purpose and do what has to be done.

SPIEGEL: And what’s that?

Baselitz: They collect what’s important in their respective countries. In Berlin’s National Gallery, however, this isn’t the case. They’re interested neither in me nor the other usual suspects. It’s simply a German reality.

SPIEGEL: What do you attribute that to?

Baselitz: To the directors and the mood.

SPIEGEL: What mood?

Baselitz: Spending money on art has always been frowned upon in this country — even earlier, when my and others’ paintings cost almost nothing. Something is always more important. The people in charge are always peddling reasons that others seem to accept. Those who don’t drink and aren’t crazy, or who don’t attract attention with how they behave in public, aren’t noticed in art.

SPIEGEL: You sound furious. We were actually planning on discussing whether the situation in the art world isn’t better than ever.

Baselitz: That’s a justified question seeing that everyone apparently has the feeling that that’s the case. There’s a market for art, and things are indeed going swimmingly, especially for German artists. But everything takes place in America and in London, where there are quite a few wealthy, engaged people. What motivates them to buy art is a different question, but they do.

SPIEGEL: These collectors are also buying your art. What more could you ask for?

Baselitz: That things were also better here, and that we weren’t just dealing with know-it-alls.

SPIEGEL: People in this country are very interested in art. The museums are reporting record visitor numbers.

Baselitz: I’ve painted, but I’ve also done graphics since as long as I can remember. So even people with little to spend could afford it. But even the graphic works are only bought by those who buy the big, expensive paintings. I think that’s troublesome.

SPIEGEL: Why do you say that again?

Baselitz: Because everything is drifting apart, and because everything is moving away from the ordinary public.

SPIEGEL: How do you explain the many visitors to museums?

Baselitz: The museums! They say that people are going there. I had two big exhibitions in Dresden, but no one went. There are plenty of tourists on the street in Dresden, but they’d rather go to the Green Vault (museum) or to see the Old Masters. Other contemporary artists have had the same experience. And look at music. Alfred Schnittke was an important contemporary composer, and he lived in Germany, but no one here has heard of him. Everyone has heard of Mozart, and many believe that he can still be found in that little house in Salzburg, which is why people stand there in line. I think that our music and our art belong to our era. If the public doesn’t show up, it must be stupid.

‘Talent Seduces Us into Interpretation’

SPIEGEL: Perhaps artists and composers have also distanced themselves from the public.Baselitz: Wrong. The public has distanced itself.

SPIEGEL: And yet artists themselves could be to blame. Writers participate in debates in entirely different ways. Durs Grünbein writes political essays, and Martin Walser has often gotten involved. Günter Grass wrote a poem about Israel. You don’t have to approve of (the poem), but everyone was talking about it.

Baselitz: Painters just don’t live to draw attention to themselves in that way. Walser sells his books because people go to his book-signings and readings, where they buy a copy for €20 and take it home with them. He has to sell thousands of books. We painters don’t need that. I’ve never been on a talk show. I used to say to (now-deceased German painter) Jörg Immendorff: “Don’t do it. It’ll just hurt you, and it’ll make you unhappy.” But he couldn’t leave well enough alone because he was an agitator by nature. Writers have to do it. TV is their medium for selling books.

SPIEGEL: Sometimes it’s just a question of speaking up. In your works, you certainly do grapple with the country you live in.

Baselitz: Exactly. But no one on the other side of society is interested in that. We’re called “painter princes,” but it’s meant derisively. All German painters have a neurosis with Germany’s past: war, the postwar period most of all, East Germany. I addressed all of this in a deep depression and under great pressure. My paintings are battles, if you will.

SPIEGEL: Do you prefer not to address current affairs?

Baselitz: At least not the way Günter Grass does. And that would be terrible. Instead of sitting down and writing another “Tin Drum,” he writes a poem about Greece.

SPIEGEL: You find this reference to the here and now embarrassing?

Baselitz: Extremely embarrassing. There are also painters who do this sort of thing, but we’re not going to name them.

SPIEGEL: Why do you have trouble treating culture here with indulgence?

Baselitz: I think Günter Grass is truly awful. So is Walser, and so is (Hans Magnus) Enzensberger. Just read the diary of Hans Werner Richter, the head of Group 47, to which they all belonged. Read what he says about these people, and it’ll make you feel very depressed. I also feel that way because, after all, they were our role models, our heroes. Your magazine was the voice of these people. And their contribution? Zero. Reading Walser is unbearable. I call him “the bubble of Lake Constance.”

SPIEGEL: Oh, come on.

Baselitz: It makes me furious. I’m disappointed with philosophy. I just saw an opera, a premiere by … what’s his name, our professor from Karlsruhe? The one with the hair?

SPIEGEL: Peter Sloterdijk.

Baselitz: He wrote the libretto for “Babylon.” My God, is it awful.

SPIEGEL: Do you also pay attention to what your fellow painters are doing?

Baselitz: I live a secluded life. I live, in a sense, a lonely life. But I do pay very close attention.

SPIEGEL: The art-selling business has gone crazy. The gallerists who sell your works — including Larry Gagosian, the world’s most successful gallerist — must be constantly asking you for more paintings. Is this a dilemma for someone like you, who demands quality and depth?

Baselitz: No. It’s not a dilemma, and why should it be? It’s really an ambition. I want to be part of it, to be young and belong. That has always been what I wanted.

SPIEGEL: But Richter tops the list of the most expensive living artists. Do you like him?

Baselitz: I’m always happy to listen to someone from (the eastern German state of) Saxony. Most Saxony natives are offended when you address them in the Saxon dialect. Gerhard never is.

SPIEGEL: Aha.

Baselitz: Don’t forget that, as an artist, I have been a risk-taker. And I’ve done a lot of different things. I don’t make it easy for people. Identification is difficult. One doesn’t recognize my art right away.

SPIEGEL: Turning motifs upside down, as you do it, is a unique characteristic.

Baselitz: Actually, no one who looks at my paintings can see whether a painting is upside down or not anymore. I’ve made or developed so many image models that some people have given up trying to keep track of me. But others have only one or two ways of doing things and are successful with that.

SPIEGEL: It’s been said that you have painted all-black paintings or even painted over existing paintings with black paint. What is the point of that?

Baselitz: I don’t paint over my paintings with black paint. I paint black paintings. It isn’t because I’m sad, just as I didn’t paint red paintings yesterday because I was happy. Nor will I paint yellow paintings tomorrow because I’m jealous.

SPIEGEL: There are a lot of lone wolves in your generation. But there’s apparently enough room and money for you, Richter and Anselm Kiefer.

Baselitz: There are surprisingly many lone wolves, and they all run across the finish line as winners. Of course, when we got started, they were saying that panel painting was dead. But then came people like Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, as well as Richter, Kiefer and me. When I painted my first painting, still right-side-up, my teacher told me that it was an anachronism. I had to look up the word. Then I said: No, no, I’m an avant-gardist. What I do is quite aggressive and quite mean-spirited.

‘Women Simply Don’t Pass the Test’

SPIEGEL: You started painting in East Germany, but you left early and continued to study in the West. Nowadays, the art market largely ignores the artistic legacy of East Germany, including the painters who received all the attention and promotion, the ones you referred to as “assholes” after German reunification. Is it delayed justice?Baselitz: As always, the market is right.

SPIEGEL: Always? The market only embraces a few women. There are hardly any women among the most expensive artists.

Baselitz: Oh God! Women simply don’t pass the test.

SPIEGEL: What test?

Baselitz: The market test, the value test.

SPIEGEL: What’s that supposed to mean?

Baselitz: Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact. There are, of course, exceptions. Agnes Martin or, from the past, Paula Modersohn-Becker. I feel happy whenever I see one of her paintings. But she is no Picasso, no Modigliani and no Gauguin.

SPIEGEL: So women supposedly don’t paint very well.

Baselitz: Not supposedly. And that despite the fact that they still constitute the majority of students in the art academies.

SPIEGEL: It probably isn’t a genetic defect.

Baselitz: I think the defect actually lies with male artists. Male artists often border on idiocy, while it’s important for a woman not to be that way, if possible. Women are outstanding in science, just as good as men.

SPIEGEL: Women certainly aren’t as loud and obtrusive when it comes to how they present themselves. With its desire for the sensational, the market isn’t very forgiving of that.

Baselitz: Don’t you know who Marina Abramovic is?

SPIEGEL: She doesn’t paint, but she’s an important performance artist, someone who shows that a woman can come a long way.

Baselitz: She has talent, as do many women. But a painter doesn’t need any of that. In fact, it’s better not to have it.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying it’s better to not be talented?

Baselitz: Yes, much better.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Baselitz: Talent seduces us into interpretation. My sister could draw wonderfully, but she would never have hit upon the idea of becoming a painter. I never had that extreme talent.

SPIEGEL: For centuries, art was a craft, an almost physical labor that was performed by men. Men were also the first art historians. Everything was male, and it’s simply stayed that way.

Baselitz: That has little to do with history. As I said, there are certainly some female artists: Helen Frankenthaler, Cecily Brown and Rosemarie Trockel.

SPIEGEL: The latter is German, and she currently has a big show in New York. She is also well-regarded worldwide.

Baselitz: There’s a lot of love in her art, a lot of sympathy.

SPIEGEL: That doesn’t sound like praise. So what does she lack, and what does Modersohn-Becker lack, to make you not rank the two of them among the great artists?

Baselitz: Let me qualify that. There is, of course, quite a lot of brutality in art. Not brutality against others, but brutality against the thing itself, against what already exists. When Modersohn-Becker painted herself, she looked very unpleasant, and extremely ugly…

SPIEGEL: …and nude, at a time, around 1900, when it was completely taboo for women to portray themselves in that way.

Baselitz: Exactly. But she hesitated to destroy others, in other words, to really destroy Gauguin by going beyond his art. Men have no problem with that. They just do it. But you must know that I do love women.

SPIEGEL: Of course.

Baselitz: Yes, I’m constantly in love — with my own wife.

SPIEGEL: Does Jeff Koons — another expensive contemporary artist — have the necessary brutality? He supplies the world with sculptures of tulips and hearts.

Baselitz: The most unpleasant works of Jeff Koons that I’ve seen are those fuck paintings with Cicciolina. Just the fact that he made those paintings while at the same time talking about love and fathering a child … I think it’s dreadful.

SPIEGEL: So Koon’s early art did have that brutality you demand.

Baselitz: I don’t demand it. I just know that it has to be that way.

SPIEGEL: So, it has to be that way if you want to be a big artist?

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Published 10/06/2007

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

Georg Baselitz

Royal Academy of Arts, London
22 September–9 December 2007

Georg Baselitz is a powerful and rebellious painter who admits to being a painter of ‘bad pictures’. He has refused to fit into mainstream art since bursting onto the art scene in the 1960s, yet he has become universally admired. His overbearing preoccupation is Germany’s ugly wartime legacy. Baselitz is celebrated in a major retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, this autumn. Featuring over 60 paintings together with a significant number of drawings, prints and sculptures, the exhibition offers a comprehensive survey of Baselitz’s most important work. In 1981, Baselitz was included in the seminal exhibition at the Royal Academy, ‘A New Spirit of Painting’. This introduced his work to the British public; he is an Honorary Royal Academician.

Baselitz was influenced in his early years by the artistic works and writings of influential artists and theorists such as Kandinsky, Malevich, Nietzsche, Samuel Beckett and the French writer and artist Antonin Artaud. Baselitz later became involved with the work of the mentally ill and other outsider artists. He is a collector of African art and influenced by French and Italian Mannerist painting. Printmaking in the German tradition has also played an important role.

When the Allied Forces bombed Dresden in 1945, the young Georg Baselitz witnessed the horrors. One can be forgiven for having a love/hate relationship with the work of one of Germany’s most uncompromising artists, whose self-advertisement and self-aggrandisement exist in parallel with poignant, albeit extraordinarily ugly, images. Every work in Baselitz’s show refers to war, whether it is the black mood, fractured presence or specific references. Waldemar Januszczak finds it hilarious.

Baselitz is as compelling a painter as he is because the ultimate absurdity of war seems never to escape his attention. Even his most notorious painterly act – the ridiculous policy of painting everything upside down – strikes you as perfectly reasonable when compared with Germany entrusting the nation’s destiny to the Führer.1

He considers that Baselitz tackles the overwhelming problem of being German and being loathed, ‘with a fabulous combination of urgency and insolence’. Known as the artist who turned painting upside down at the end of the sixties, literally, he irritatingly has not put it right since. He appears to work in the eye of the storm freed of the spell of artistic icons, and yet he continues to work in traditional media: painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. He has taken risks to the point of recklessness, yet still chooses still life, portraiture and landscape. His are ‘unequivocal declarations of an attitude’, rather than ‘examples or components of a style’.2

In 1963 at his first solo exhibition in Berlin, two of his paintings were seized by public prosecutors on the grounds of obscenity. In 1969, he began to paint his figures upside down. In 1980, he shared the Nazi-era German pavilion at the Venice Biennale with Anselm Kiefer. The sculpture he showed there was crudely modelled, block-like and primitive in style, and it appeared to be making a fascist salute. It caused an outrage. Although the human figure is central to his oeuvre, he never uses a life model. The twisted, distorted, fractured human forms from the 1960s onwards are as shocking in their perception of humanity as those of his forebear in the northern tradition, Hieronymus Bosch. Baselitz, however, endows his work with elements of the absurd.

Georg Baselitz was born in 1938, the son of a primary teacher, in the small village of Grossbaselitz in Saxony, which later became East Germany. His name was Hans-Georg Kern, which he changed to Georg Baselitz when he left East Berlin in 1957. When he was seven, the town of Dresden just 30 km away was heavily bombed by the Allied Forces. The small school where Baselitz attended was also bombed, in spite of having the Red Cross flag on it. The children experienced the horror, huddled in a bomb shelter. The girl who later became his wife was from Dresden. They claim to have talked about the bombing every day since. The tragedy and horror of the Second World War and the aftermath under a Communist regime have obsessed Baselitz ever since. It forms the core of his experience and his art. David Sylvester describes his career as like no other European painter in that his creativeness has been sustained decade after decade.

The outstanding importance of his role seems to me to reside in two attributes, both of them rare. One of them – rare only in our time – is that his work seems free of any theoretical or polemical foundation or justification. It is a delight to wonder and to behold; it is not a notable stimulus for verbal investigation. The other quality – and here is probably unique – is that he is an artist who uses a harsh Germanic iconography (the hunter, the dog, the woman with a whip, the bird of prey) to produce paintings whose succulent, tactile surfaces seem the prerogative of French paintings.3

The work of Baselitz nonetheless presents images of a world possessed, a dreadful fracturing of human values, the collapse of civilisation itself. He distorts the human form itself and in doing so, creates works that are physically disgusting. The paint itself is applied as excrement, pushed and shoved around the canvas with apparent contempt. The contempt is in Baselitz’s scheme of things, disdain for the world, a comment on human nature itself, a searing comment on war and the state of the world: whether it be Vietnam or Iraq, nothing has changed.

What Baselitz could not escape was Germany and being German. Januszczak continues:

Baselitz’s Heroes are said to evoke Germany’s battered spirit in the post-war years. Their shirts are ripped. Their flies are open. Their bits are dangling. It has also been suggested that these are self-portraits, particularly the image of a one-legged soldier holding a palette and brush that is actually called Blocked Painter. But what I like most about these clumsy losers is their air of comic meladrama… If Baselitz is looking back on his pitiful national inheritance, then he is doing so with an explosive mixture of sadness and scorn.4

Thrown out of his first art school in East Berlin in 1956 on the grounds of ‘political immaturity’, Baselitz moved to West Berlin prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall. There he saw ‘The New American Painting’, which had a profound impact. In fact, he still refers to the experience of first seeing Phillip Guston and Jackson Pollock. Baselitz instinctively understood the observation made by de Kooning of Pollock, that Pollock had broken the ice. Pollock indeed shattered pictorial space. Guston was represented in ‘The New American Painting’, by works from the mid and late 1950s. They were neither abstract nor figurative, they were elusive and the discernable images fluctuated in focus and dissolution. In this Baselitz was greatly affected. He eventually rejected abstraction as such, but like many American artists was influenced by jazz music, the disruption of underlying rhythm, the dislocation of melody. Baselitz’s work has an affinity with jazz in the sense that many harmonies, sidetracks and levels of meaning all contribute to an art that can be experienced on different levels. Baselitz’s paintings of the late 1950s share much in their structure and woven surfaces, their energy, with Guston and de Kooning especially. He was not impressed nor taken in by the iconic simplicity of Pop Art and he rejected both the Social Realism of the Communist regime in East Germany and the universal purity of abstraction. In doing so, Baselitz became an outsider on both sides of the Iron Curtain. He had an irreverent sense of humour, and was more interested in the art of the insane than of modernist Europeans. He was drawn to the grotesque works of Grünewald’s ‘Isenheim Altarpiece’, Chaim Soutine’s fleshy distortions and Gericault’s studies of hands and feet. Baselitz also depicted feet – ugly, distorted images; he described his position at the time as ‘anti-classical’.

The Northern tradition of the ugly and grotesque drew Baselitz naturally. His first exhibition was described as ‘obscene’, ‘pornographic’, ‘revolting’. The titles themselves were provocative: ‘Sex with Dumplings’ (1963) where paint and bodily fluids were shown as interconnected. The painting ‘The Big Night Down the Drain’ shows the artist masturbating in an isolated dark space. The male ego is exposed by Baselitz as a pathetic, solipsistic performance, in which he masquerades as painting itself, the very medium that through history has been perfected to emulate human beauty and perfection. Norman Rosenthal, who organised the Baselitz exhibition, says that:

Exposure of the body and its more embarrassing functions has never been a problem for Baselitz, and this highly charged self-portrait about masturbation has a sense of tragic inevitability. The artist was not making a scandal for its own sake, but, rather, confronting postwar Germany – which he had found too ready to hide behind bland abstraction, too keen to avoid societal and psychological issues – with his own reality.5

Baselitz uses oil paint as if it were shit, and it did not do him much good in the process. Melancholia and illness characterised his personal experience.

Baselitz made images of the hero/soldier which inevitably created loathing in many viewers.

While it is not hard to see these images as referring to Germany’s desperate condition following the war – hulking single figures rise over their defunct landscapes like survivors of a great cataclysm – they could also be seen as surrogate self-portraits, reflecting Baselitz’s self-mocking ambition to reenergize German painting. These heroes, who carry palettes, a symbol of creative freedom and forward-looking energy, find their hands immobilised in animal traps. The ruined landscape could speak of war or the aesthetic debris left in the wake of the stylist onslaught of second – and third-generation abstraction. The Hero paintings posit the contention that if the twentieth century began with elimination of the figure through abstraction, it would end with the re-emergence, but that re-emergence would require anti-heroes who follow unpredictable paths.6

Baselitz’s hulking great figures have massive bodies, small heads and large hands. Michael Auping states that, ‘Baselitz’s further contortion of these characteristics creates an artist protagonist that is as deranged and bold as he is voluptuously pathetic. Contructed from rich accumulations of thick brushstrokes, he presents a tragic-comic Beckett-like character waiting for the painter’s next move’.7

The ‘Fracture’ paintings of the late 1960s reveal Baselitz’s keen interest in forests and trees and the motifs and imagery that have historically been associated with them. In fact, Baselitz considered a career in forestry and had applied to the state forestry school in Taranth. Rural landscapes peoples with woodsmen and hunters are depicted with an earth palette. They are part fantasy and part appropriation; they are divided into segments so that the imagery can be reorganised pictorially. Dividing the picture plane into segments conveyed the fracturing of Germany by the war. Pre-war and post-war Germany and East Germany and West Germany represented the divided national psyche. Fracture paintings represent the violent ruptures and break from historical continuity; they reveal the distress and destruction of Germany’s history. The next move was to turn the image on its head. The first completely inverted picture was ‘Wermsdorf Wood’, based on a painting by the von Rayski work of 1859. The loosely rendered image of the wood was seized on by critics as having political connotations – upside-down trees were seen to represent a country that had been culturally uprooted. The Nazi ban on ‘degenerate’ modernist art indeed created a rupture in German art history, in Baselitz’s words ‘a severing of memory’ from a figurative tradition. What followed was dislocating, ‘It was like one day waking up and abstraction had become the authority’.8 Inversion enabled Baselitz to bridge the gulf between the figurative tradition, stopped in its tracks by the Nazis and abstraction that came to dominate art by the 1950s. Baselitz describes his method:

The object expresses nothing at all. Painting is not a means to an end. On the contrary, painting is autonomous. And I said to myself: if this is the case, then I must take everything which has been an object of painting – landscape, the portrait, and the nude, for example – and paint it upside-down. That is the best way to liberate representation from content.

The hierarchy which has located the sky at the top and the earth at the bottom is, in any case, only a convention. We have got used to it, but we don’t have to believe in it. The only thing that interests me is the question of how I can carry on painting pictures.9

Portraiture is central to Baselitz’s oeuvre; he has been making portraits of family and friends since the late 1960s. Elke, his wife of thirty years, is often the subject; she claims this is largely due to her availability and the fact that they have always lived very closely. On one hand then, there is the pictorial calculation required to construct and execute an inverted portrait, and then there is the inevitable emotional content, as a consequence of the long-term close relationship, of sitter and artist. Conflicted feelings seem to characterise the majority of Baselitz’s work – nothing is as straightforward as the artist’s comments about them. Auping observes:

His portraits are about the fact that experience itself is not a pure process, revealing a narrative of distinct and logical episodes. The picture may be upside down, and references to the visible world may or may not be present in a specific picture, but that does not make such a picture any more or less faithful to its subject. There are moments in life when feelings exceed perceptions, when the world inside takes precedence over the world outside; every moment in every life is a confrontation, a meeting of inner and outer, an encounter between self and the thing observed or felt. What makes Baselitz’s inverted imagery so intriguing is the way in which it resists simplification and has the weird naturalness and ungraspability of experience itself.10

Baselitz’s portraits one at a time are disconcerting; en masse they assume a different level of existence. They are powerful and remarkable. The issue of portraiture in the post-photographic world was given profound impetus by Picasso almost 100 years ago. Any portrait since Picasso inevitably addresses the psychology of the sitter and the relationship between artist and sitter. It is important to be aware that Baselitz does not paint a work, and then turn it upside down. He holds the photograph of his sitter in one hand and paints with the other. If an inverted portrait is put the right way up, they simply do not work. Gerhard Richter understood Baselitz’s method when he observed that, ‘Nonsense has been written about Baselitz: by being turned through 180 degrees, his figures are said to lose their objective nature and become “pure painting”. The opposite is true: there is an added stress on the objectivity, which takes on a new substance’.11

Arguably, the most remarkable of Baselitz’s portraits are those of Elke in linocut. Baselitz found the traditionally low status of linocut attractive, as had Picasso and Matisse. The energy that can be achieved in linocuts is achieved by its direct and uncompromising method. The actual cutting and scooping of the lines, and the clear contrasts achieved when it has been inked and printed is both exciting and satisfying. So too are the methods of execution of Baselitz’s sculptures, which he began to make in the 1970s. His preferred carving tool is the chainsaw – primitive, energetic and roughly hewn. David Sylvester observes that unlike Baselitz’s paintings, his sculpture was always wholly Teutonic. ‘They are magnificent frames, rough-cast yet subtle, energetic, robust and moody. He has used these weighty, brooding forms to contain and offset some of the most tenuous and fragile looking canvases he has ever painted, creating a perfect integration of sculpture and painting, the coarse and the delicate, the massive and the vulnerable.’12

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Baselitz increased the scale of his work, making his imagery bolder. Although numerous of Baselitz’s images are overwhelmingly egotistical and male, he produced a remarkable image of Elke in 1994, ‘No Birds (Picture Twenty-Eight)’, in which she dwarfs the surrounding landscape, indeed becomes the landscape itself. Painted with hands rather than brushes, the figure is sculpted in paint; the figure is mother earth, a matriarch, an earth figure who floats across the vast canvas (290 x 450 cm). Flowers that have a myriad of associations are introduced by Baselitz as a kitsch wallpaper, a folk art addition to an already valid image. Teetering between the acceptable and artistic suicide, Baselitz teases his viewers, as only a self-styled loner-cum-self-publicist would. Baselitz is maddening in his audacity as an artist and as an individual. He is incredibly difficult to explain, and while there is very great support for his work in Germany and internationally, he has not inspired an actual following. He is a loner in all respects. In the 1990s his work became more accessible, with the introduction of more lyrical drawn lines in paint, with decorative elements of flowers, and a richer palette. The individuals look more plausible, less mythological, friendlier and more ethereal too. Baselitz is many things at any given time in his career.

Drawing is central to the painting of Baselitz and in certain respects his vast sculptures too. The linocuts especially show the powerful immediacy of the drawn line, and many paintings, especially recent works, resemble amplified versions of small works on paper. Baselitz describes drawing as encouraging an exceptionally ‘… fluid type of space … [where] you can break any kind of order or convention, quickly and precisely’. Recent works resemble vast pen and ink drawings amplified onto canvas.

The curator of this exhibition is Norman Rosenthal, who has long championed the work of Baselitz. It seems a little too apologetic to write the catalogue essay for a major retrospective at the Royal Academy ‘Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter’, but that in fact was based on the title of the artist’s own manifesto in 1966, ‘Why the Painting “The Great Friends” is a Good Picture!’

Standing within the long tradition of German art, and using time-honoured media, Baselitz has striven constantly to confront the realities of history and art history, to make them new and fresh in a manner that can only be described as heroic; heroic because his art has consciously gone against the grain of fashion, while always remaining modern. For Baselitz, the artist must be always an outsider, a worker and also, in a certain sense, a prince. Although he is rooted in a German – specifically Saxon – background, Baselitz has succeeded in engaging with art from all around the world. Through both learning and empathy he is able to bring to life traditions quite alien to his experience. He can be read as a highly conservative figure within modern art, but this makes him no less radical, even provocative.13

The Royal Academy exhibition of Georg Baselitz is a most successful one in terms of the hang, wall text and scholarship. The most dramatic galleries are where the ‘45 series’ and ‘Women of Dresden’ were displayed. The ‘45 series’ is a sequence of twenty paintings on wooden panels of equal dimensions. They are powerful images en masse, all produced over a four-month period. The physical feat is most impressive: the wooden panels are incised like wood engraving blocks, or etching plates, but the scale involves an aggressive and rebellious act. Oil and tempera have been applied to the surface, which is then chiselled, in a dynamic manner, not unlike the way Baselitz sculpts with a chainsaw. The geometric carving of the wooden panels reveals the raw untreated wood beneath the paint. The wood is lacerated, like torn flesh; further images are applied in a crude series of splodges, which allude to images of women. The series was made in 1989 to mark the 45th anniversary of the end of the war. As a series, they reveal Baselitz’s aesthetic concerns that were abandoned in many works. ‘Women of Dresden’ (most of the men were at the front when the city was bombed) is a homage to the suffering of women and children in the war, but without any of the profound compassion of Kathe Kollwitz. The crude sculptures resonate with references – from the Expressionist work of the Die Brücke, to the German tradition of wood engraving. They are layered with references to history and art history; they are angry but not moving. Rosenthal has succeeded in presenting a tough body of work, inexplicable in the first instance, in a convincing and enlightened manner.

Dr Janet McKenzie

1 Waldemar Januszczak. Turning the art world on its head. The Sunday Times 23 September 2007. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/ tol/arts_and_entertainment/ visual_arts/article2499962.ece (last accessed 3 october 2007)

2 Andreas Franzke. Georg Baselitz. Munich: Prestel, 1989: 7.

3 David Sylvester. Paintings in Carvings. In: Georg Baselitz: outside. London: Gagosian Gallery 2000: 13.

4 Januszczak. Op cit: 18.

5 Norman Rosenthal. Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter. In: Georg Baselitz. London: Royal Academy, 2007: 3.

6 Michael Auping. Detlev Gretenkort (ed). Georg Baselitz: Paintings, 1962–2001. Milan: Alberico Cetti Serbelloni Editore, 2002: 16–18.

7 Ibid: 18.

8 Ibid: 20.

9 Ibid: 20.

10 Ibid: 22.

11 Ibid: 22.

12 Sylvester, op cit: 13.

13 Rosenthal, op cit: 1.

Baselitz: Who wants to be a small artist?

SPIEGEL: You simply wanted to be different from others yourself.

Baselitz: I was always on the outside. It was the worst when I still wanted to be a professor, having to deal with colleagues and students, and having to listen to all that academic nonsense. It’s really just a haze that keeps them busy. But all of that is fortunately over now, once and for all. Everything ended happily.

SPIEGEL: Wait! Georg Baselitz is happy?

Baselitz: Absolutely! Completely! It’s fantastic! I can even be happy about my own paintings.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Baselitz, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Susanne Beyer and Ulrike Knoefel; translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

===

Georg Baselitz

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen



T his spring Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac hosted the opening of the exhibition of the new works by Georg Baselitz. The show includes a series of Baselitz new monumental sculptures, paintings and a number of works on paper.
Mart Engelen: When you started as a young artist,
do you remember the first thing that inspired you?
Georg Baselitz: My first inspiration was not as a
professional, because I was very young. I remember
that I saw an artist painting an oak tree in the countryside.
He was an unknown artist and the oak tree
looked so explosive! It was painted in the method
of ‘Die Neue Sachlichkeit’. I was only 13 or 14 and
thought: “What is this?”
ME: When you later entered the Academy of Art,
what did you specifically like?
GB: At the time in Germany it was a total different
situation than for instance in Amsterdam or Paris.
Just after the Second World War it was very difficult
for us. Germany was destroyed. There was no
hierarchy. There were no people you could believe
in, everything had been taken away also education
wise. I did not know who Kirchner was or Paul
Klee. I didn’t know anything. All of that changed in
1958. When I was twenty there was for the first time
at the Art Academy a big exhibition about American
Expressionism with Jackson Pollock and many
more contemporary artists.
It was so impressive, wonderful, but also astonishing
that you did not have a chance as a young artist
to create modern art. Because, for instance, De
Kooning was more understandable for the Europeans
than Pollock also Sam Francis. I thought: “this
is so great and surprising!”
I had a total different idea about America , so I said
to myself: “you have to do something totally different.
You cannot follow this. It was another time, another
world, another quality.” And then we heard
that there was an important museum in Amsterdam,
an important director and we heard about the COBRA
group.
So, many hitchhiked to Amsterdam. The first trip
I made together with my wife was to Amsterdam.
That was in 1958 or 1959 and we stayed in a little
hotel in the Red Light District for 5 Dutch guilders
a day. Separate. So we visited the Stedelijk Museum
but did not know anything about modernity,
Bauhaus and so on. I saw for the first time work of
Marcel Duchamp, Picasso and Malevich. For us
German artists Holland was actually the beginning
of our German career. Many of my colleagues had
exhibitions in the beginning of their careers at the
Stedelijk Museum of Eindhoven. After that followed
Amsterdam, France and the United States.
The Stedelijk Museum in Eindhoven had at that
time a very active director named Rudi Fuchs.
ME: What does Art mean to you these days?
GB: Well, it has changed a lot. Before, Art was determined
by certain doctrines, also styles. To give you
an example. When I started out, they said: “The image
of a table (“tafelbild”) is dead. You cannot paint
that anymore”. Then we have had the photographers,
after that the conceptualists, minimalists and
so on. Now nobody talks about that anymore. For
me, who always believed in this métier, I must say it
is an interesting development. Now you have a much
bigger audience. In the old days people were not interested
in Art. It was a small elite who were interested
in Art and who visited exhibitions. The group
who bought Art was even smaller. Nowadays there
is a big interest. You have many visitors of contemporary
Art shows. There are many collectors. It has
totally changed. By the way, the name of the Hotel in
Amsterdam was Elen.
ME: Never heard of it.
ME: You once said: “you cannot deny your origins”.
When we look at young artists today, I am tempted
to say that they are loosing their origins because of
globalization. What do you think about that?
GB: I don’t know, I cannot judge that. They always
ask me why are German artists so interesting? Well,
they all shared the same history: the Second World
War. And many were born in the DDR and lived
there. They also shared the feeling of being despised
by the whole world. That altogether appears to be a
good base to create Art.
We cannot say this of today’s new generation artists.
But some things will never change. Today we still
have German Art, American Art, Dutch Art. Even
when a German artist today will make pop-art, people
will see that it is made by a German, just like people
will recognize work that is made by an Italian or
a French artist.
ME: So there is still origin?
GB: Yes. I don’t know what it exactly is but I assume
a combination of roots and tradition.
ME: Your generation artists could find provocation
and inspiration through the Second World War.
How do today’s artists inspire themselves?
GB: I think they orientate in Art towards Art. When
you are an artist you have an incredible ambition.
What you believe is right, you have to pursue it. This
process is connected all the time with a lot of discipline
and aggression. They have to defend their Art,
so you have to be a provocateur. Otherwise it does
not work.
ME: When you want to become a great artist should
you then also play the role of ‘the great artist’?
GB: There are many ways. You can say the artist is
ill, that’s why he produces only one artwork a year.
Or, this artist is so introverted and precise he can only
produce one work a year. They say a lot of things
about artists just to manipulate the market and it is
seems all legitimate, but it is wrong of course. You
know there is a book about Rembrandt that explains
to us the entrepreneur Rembrandt. He totally manipulated
his own market. And today this happens
even more so.
ME: How can artists become good artists?
GB: First of all they need of course passion. They
have to own a sensitivity towards images more than
normal people. They have to suppress the feeling that
they just can
“do it like that”, because Art has nothing to do with
interpretation. With music, when you are talented,
you can play wonderfully a part of Chopin without
losing yourself.
In art that is impossible. You cannot paint like de
Kooning then you are not an artist. You are an interpreter.
We don’t need this in Art. That’s why a lot of
Art, what we see these days, is so diffuse. And you
think: “Why?”
ME: Do you collect Art yourself?
GB: Yes, I collect Art between 1500 and 1600. Specially
Parmigianino and his contemporaries. Apart
from that I also collect African Art, especially from
Congo.

 

Johnson Road Projects presents Los Angeles-based artist Vincent Johnson’s dazzling color photographs shot in Los Angeles and Detroit + essay

Johnson Road Projects Summer 2015 Exhibition: A Selection of Vincent Johnson’s Color Photography 2001-2015

Johnson Road Projects presents Los Angeles-based artist Vincent Johnson’s dazzling color photographs shot in Los Angeles and Detroit. The artist has lived in LA for several years and most recently gone to Detroit on three photography trips to capture remarkable and startling images of Detroit in transformation.

 DSC05981 copy 1

Neon Chain
Neon Chain

The Deville

Color TV by RCA - Los Angeles
Color TV by RCA – Los Angeles
Ritz Motel - Air Conditioned Rooms
Ritz Motel – Air Conditioned Rooms

V

Permanently Parked Ford Mercury - Detroit
Permanently Parked Ford Mercury – Detroit
Detroit Tire and Bush House.72dpi
Tire and House – Detroit
Mister Softie Truck Detroit.72dpi
Mister Softee Truck Detroit

Vincent Johnson’s Artist statement from 2005 on Photography:

My artistic practice is currently concerned with the production of an archive of digital photographic images of the remains of Los Angeles’ and Southern California’s vernacular architecture after the inception of the motel in the 1920’s through intriguing phase that delivered the fantasy of neon noir architecture of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Since the majority of this form of architectural history are in forlorn and neglected avenues of Los Angeles and beyond, I do not consider the project to be a form of cultural tourism, but an authentic investigation and concern that gives rise to a cultural document as history. On occasion I will also produce a photograph that documents the relationship between the 1950’s through the 1970’s car culture and California private residences.

I work in Los Angeles, which has an exceptional amount of interesting architectural artifacts from the First World War period onwards. Many portions of the Los Angeles that I depict come into existence when New York was attempting to wrest the thorn crown of painting from Paris and succeeded. In the course of producing my photographic archive, I have employed strategies of production such as those used by the flaneur and the derive, in day and at night, by car and on foot, primarily in a stark and challenging urban territory, the Anti-City that is Los Angeles. Similarly, I have also allowed myself to merely wander through this world as the American artist that I am, and fall into pictures and spaces that call for documentation.

It is my experience that driving a car in Los Angeles and seeing the world through its windows is a complex real-time cinematic event. There is a temporary encounter and an enduring intimacy through memory via the photographed subject – this produces the photograph, as versus a sustained relationship with a single but ever-changing street scene. Through auto travel one is given the privileged observer position of moving through the world as a real-time unedited film, a cinema-state; to take a number of photographs of it afterwards. Often, when I drive I look about and “remember” key images, photographs of urban sites from the mid-century and earlier that I will take pictures of in the future.

Despite the relative youth of Los Angeles cultural architectural properties from the mid-20th century and earlier, they are constantly vanishing from the physical landscape of the state, as the dead architecture and their signs are either demolished or their elegant features are almost erased. Part of my project is documentary in the recognition of this reality. At certain times and places in Southern California, merely by driving about, one can gain a very strong sense of the lifestyles of Los Angeles’ remarkable architectural past, in reinvented forms of openness to new possibilities, without external pressure, to fulfill the promise of the future.

Vincent Johnson

Lake Balboa, California
4.12.05

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