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 Martin Kippenberger  (1953 - 1997)

About: Martin Kippenberger
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Germany/Austria      Known for: mixed media sculpture, collage, installation

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BIOGRAPHY for Martin Kippenberger
Facts/Data
Birth
1953 (Dortmund, Germany)
 
Death
1997 (Vienna, Austria)

Lived/Active
New York / Germany/Austria


Self portrait - Untitled (Self portrait?).


Often Known For
mixed media sculpture, collage, installation

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An artist of a wide variety of media, his work is unified by the adolescent humor that makes fun of art and artists and the perception that art and artists are grandiose and important.

He was born in Dortmund Germany and began studying art in Hamburg in 1972. He then moved to Berlin and was business manager of a famous bar, the S.O. 36. In 1986, the first museum exhibition of his work was held at the Hessiches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt, Germany. He has also had solo exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Biography from Sotheby's London, New Bond Street:
An incessant self-promoter, trickster, narcissist, shameless extravert and agent provocateur, Kippenberger lived an unrestrained life through art and a ceaseless scrutiny of what it is to be an artist.  Simultaneously seduced by and disillusioned with the anachronistic ideal of the Romantic artist-genius, Kippenberger’s astounding opus of self-portraits irreverently undermine the prescribed dictates of artistic self-presentation.

In the late 1990s, shortly before Kippenberger died, he expressed his desire to “complete Picasso” (the artist quoted in: Eva Meyer-Hermann, ‘Yes, I am also a woman. Tragedies of the Flesh.’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Malaga, Museo Picasso, Kippenberger Meets Picasso, 2011, p. 62). 

Departing from the sobriety of his German contemporaries Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, and Anselm Kiefer, Picasso was instead the father figure whom Kippenberger emulated and rivaled.  Kippenberger took a number of photographic self-portraits in mock-dancerly poses, which served as source images for several of the Hand Painted Pictures paintings.  A towering figure synonymous with Twentieth Century modern art, Picasso yet possessed an arch comedic sensibility and marvelously crafted his defining artistic ‘brand.’  Curator Eva Meyer-Hermann has shown that Kippenberger’s self-portraits are best elucidated with reference to Picasso, as the comparison highlights the former’s “performative ‘showmanship’, as a fluid questioning of the identification of an artist with his work” (Ibid., p. 65).

Following years of gregarious attention seeking and focused self-promotion across Europe as a painter, curator, publisher, actor and musician, The Hand Painted Pictures arrived at the very height of the artist’s carefully cultivated mythology and the ensuing polemic against this outrageous ‘artist-behavior’.  Nonetheless, beyond the bravado of this extreme public persona, Kippenberger’s sequential cycles of self-portraiture narcissistically perform his own biography with unflinching scrutiny whilst working through a sense of loss and mournful departure from the centuries-old cult of the artist. 

The narrative thread of  alter-egos in self-portraiture form the very backbone of Martin Kippenberger’s anarchic and utterly revolutionary oeuvre first announced the artist’s maturity in 1981 with the Lieber Maler Male Mir series, finding its forceful apotheosis in the series of Picasso Paintings in 1988 and the Hand Painted Pictures in 1992 and finally the suite of paintings after Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa painted one year before his death in 1996.  Clownishly posing in balletic hold, Kippenberger’s fragmented and asymmetric body stands precariously balanced in second position.  Quartered fields of fluorescent color dissect the background, against which a German phrase encoded in Greek-Cyrillic flows from Kippenberger's right hand: ‘Step into the Bucket with Paint’.  Having taken off his trademark orange cycling shorts, the artist intently proclaims painterly immersion. Painted during a long stay with his friend Michel Würthle on the Greek island of Syros in 1992, the series of Hand Painted Pictures is defined by a pronounced colorism exercised by Kippenberger’s confrontation of his own abilities as a painter.  As Daniel Baumann has noted, with this series Kippenberger was “letting himself be seduced by his own virtuosity while following the example of his classic predecessors (Picasso, Matisse, Géricault)” (Daniel Baumann, ‘“The Way You Wear Your Hat” Martin Kippenberger’s self-promotion and self-portraiture’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Kunsthalle Basel; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen, Martin Kippenberger, 1998-9, p. 68). 

The title of the series Hand Painted Pictures hints at Kippenberg's subversion of traditional painterly virtuosity: possessing multifaceted meaning, the moniker, Hand Painted Pictures, is also a pun.  With typical humor and wit, Kippenberger summons the age-old acid test for the skill and ability of any technically capable artist: the painting of hands.  An artistic challenge in part provoked as competition with his friend and peer Albert Oehlen, the series purportedly started as a contest: “The hands were a theme that we competed about.  I once mentioned to him that I had heard that one could see from painted hands whether someone could really paint.  We were standing in front of one of my self-portraits where the hands were really bad.  He wanted to go one better” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Ann Goldstein, ‘The Problem Perspective’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective, 2009, p. 92).

Though far from virtuoso - failure is itself fetishized and privileged throughout Kippenberger’s oeuvre - the portrayal of hands in varying attitudes unite this cycle of self-portraits.  Significantly, the hand of the artist, and thus the subject of these very works, denotes an art historically loaded territory, particularly for a post-modern practice confronting authorship.  Entangled within the contentious late Twentieth Century debate between authorship and the Romantic paradigm of the artist as symbol and sole conduit of creative genius, these works continue Kippenberger’s challenge to the archetypal figure of the artist through a parody of his own persona and self-image.  By 1992 the infamy surrounding the myth of Kippenberger’s personality had reached its zenith; in response the Hand Painted Pictures confront the performativity of the artist’s cultivated identity.  As outlined by Bauman: “His proactive behavior increasingly denigrated into ritual, little more than entertainment for his admirers.  The 1992 self-portraits dealt directly with this…  The poses are ridiculous, theatrically contorted, and full of an exaggerated tension; he appears in comic struggle with himself, wearing tight bicycling shorts and a T-shirt then standing on his head à la Baselitz, as a naked thin legged Olympian sprinter, an excellent dancer, and as a melancholic posed between a lifebelt and a gallows: Kippenberger as a clown between performance and despair” (Daniel Baumann, Op. cit., p. 68).

In 1988 the series of melancholic self-images, collectively known as the Picasso Portraits - named after their melding of Kippenberger’s beer-bellied likeness with that of Picasso heroically posing in his old-man underwear - had mourned the demise of the great artist as a redemptive heroic figure.  Following this work, The Hand Painted Pictures continue this process of working through this loss via a parody of his own theatrical self-indulgence.  Kunsthalle Basel Curator Peter Pakesch explicates further: “He actually would have liked to be the great artist he certainly once dreamed of being in his youth... But Martin was too conscious and intelligent to believe that the great artist, that redemptive figure, could still exist. That identity, constructed over the course of centuries, had lost its vitality for him, however much he may have mourned its passing.  The work on the self-portraits was an important part of such mourning, in which he also mourned his way through his biography, narcissistically in love with himself.  His harsh criticism of the contemporary image of the artist, in which he hardly omitted a single cliché about artistic genius, helped him overcome his self-love” (Peter Pakesch, ‘Introduction’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Op. cit., p. 25).In critiquing the cult of artistic originality, the Hand Painted Pictures continue a dialogue first initiated by the seminal early series of paintings, Lieber Maler Male Mir (dear painter paint for me) from 1981.  Comprising twelve photo-realistic works each executed in a two by three meter scale, this corpus announced Kippenberger’s return to painting and also the arrival of his mature practice, with works that were in fact not painted by him. 

Following an unsuccessful period spent trying his hand as an actor in Florence and a writer in Paris, Kippenberger planned his vicarious artistic return in reaction to a contemporary milieu of German Neo-expressionism.  The film poster and billboard painting firm Werner was commissioned with the production of these large works from various photographs, drawings and ephemera provided by the artist.  In these soft-focus verisimilar images (works also critical of Gerhard Richter’s imperious impact) Kippenberger appears heroic and absurd: a noble purveyor of trash on a Manhatten sidewalk or an urban cowboy in front of the Berlin Wall. 

Complicated and buried in a tumult of contradictory posturing and multifaceted allusion, the series Hand Painted Pictures illuminates how for Kippenberger life, self-image and art were utterly intertwined.

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