“Hand Painted Pictures”
through December 16th at
20 East 79th Street
New York NY
By INGRID DINTER, DEC. 2017
Martin Kippenberger, in his brilliant short life (1953-1997), made and left his mark on art history of the late 20th century.
A man with a plan, with a mission, with an endless supply of raw energy and creative ideas, he worked his way forward to the front ranks of the German art scene of the 1980’s. Over his lifetime he produced prodigious amounts of work, all manner of creative and artistic output, in a great variety of mediums, and made himself known to a wide range of people in many different places. He projected a large persona, he was a force of nature.
A child of postwar Germany, growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in a country re-building itself not just physically and economically, but spiritually, psychologically, mentally, and culturally too, Kippenberger felt called upon to do his part to separate the old from the new. After a brief time at art school in Hamburg, where he met some of his lifelong friends and collaborators, including Albert Oehlen, he moved on to Berlin to produce the legend of who he was and where he was going.
As he moved around Germany in the late 70’s and early 80’s he found an art home in the gallery of Max Hetzler, first in Stuttgart, and then later in Cologne—as Cologne became the center of the contemporary art world, German style, in the early 1980’s. This gallery at that time dedicated itself full time to the promotion and distribution of the then current vogue for “bad boy” artists and art.
The designation fit Kippenberger and his group of German male artists perfectly, as they set about disrupting every possible carried forward and traditional notion about art, artists, and general good taste. This wave came across the Atlantic as “Neo Expressionism” or “Neue Wilden”, and was the counterpunch to the Minimal and Conceptual Art which had dominated the international art world for the last generation.
In New York similar generational dynamics were underway, particularly at Mary Boone Gallery at the time, but included Marian Goodman and Sperone Westwater, to mention a few others. In time Kippenberger would have several exhibitions with Metro Pictures, which also showed the work of Mike Kelley.
Kippenberger’s life was never settled or conventional. His rocket fuel was alcohol and he needed to maintain a certain hyped up state of mind and emotion in order to be the person he had early on discovered himself to be and committed himself to being: ever on, ever busting his head against predictability and the status quo, being the class clown, tearing down conventions, educating. He was the party boy, the entertainer, the sad drunk dancing alone on the makeshift stage in the dive disco in the ragged early morning hours. This egged him on, gave push to the drive that he needed in order to go into the studio and work—and also work everywhere else, ceaselessly: his preferred office was his favorite café, bar, or restaurant, wherever he happened to be.
In order to preserve himself he would, from time to time, take breaks from the action, disappear, clean up, stay with friends in the country, or on the island of Syros in Greece. He had studios all over the place, including one on this sunny Greek isle.
The self portraits in the current exhibition at Skarstedt Gallery were painted both there and in a studio in Frankfurt, where he taught for a stint at the Staedelschule art school.
These paintings were rendered from photographs. They form a cohesive group, both visually and aesthetically. They are generally largish, including one exception in this show. They all share the central figure of the artist in some form of contortion or other pose, either naked or in some sort of sporty outfit despite an obviously non-sportif physique. The most painterly details are applied to the face and torso, with the rest of the figure sometimes barely sketched in—as though time was short or interest was lost, or completion was not deemed essential.
These paintings, taken on their own show a surprising mastery of painting and composition, energetic imagination, great color choices, and other components usually associated with conventional painting. Despite the bravado and posturing, the silly antics and provocations, Martin Kippenberger was finally just simply an excellent painter, and talented artist. It almost looks as though he is trying to prove himself.
Despite many warnings regarding his health throughout his adult life, Martin Kippenberger took no heed. And then it was too late. Liver cancer overcame him in early 1997, at age 44.
Also on view close by, through December 23, at Nahmad Contemporary, is a series of twelve gray paintings (1997-2008) by Albert Oehlen—a close friend and collaborator of Martin Kippenberger.
Recommended reading: “KIPPENBERGER: The Artist and His Families” by Susanne Kippenberger—a comprehensive recounting of the artist’s life, from birth to death.WM
Ingrid Dinter is an independent curator and sometime writer, based in New York City. She was the owner of Dinter Fine Art, a gallery in Chelsea, from 2004 to 2009. Besides curating 35 exhibitions at the gallery, she also curated “Consider The Oyster” at Graham & Sons (2010) and “Summer Salt” at The Proposition (2011), as well as an ongoing artists film program called “Bohemian Nights”, shown at various venues including the Gershwin Hotel (New York City), The Emerald Tablet (San Francisco), and at IMC LAB (New York).
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