Words are constructed like trains in the German language, strung one after the other to form compound words that elicit meaning so precise that they virtually deny translation. The well known word-train, Vergangenheitsbewältingung
, or “coming to terms with the past,” was a highly loaded concept in Germany following World War II and the fall of the Berlin wall. Many Germans grappled with how to retain an understanding of their country’s exceptionally violent and traumatic recent history while building a new future. Though it doesn’t exclusively inform his sprawling, multi-faceted practice, shame, embarrassment, and failure of vergangenheitsbewältingung
is a central theme in much of Kippenberger’s work. He pursues these tangled threads in works like Ich kann bei besten Willen kein Hackenkreuz entdecken
(With the Best Will in the World, I Can’t See a Swastika, 1984), an abstract painting of fractured lines that allude to a fragmented swastika (the work was made during a time that depictions of swastikas were verboten). Put Your Freedom in the Corner and Save it for a Rainy Day
(1990) is a direct response to the decision to tear down most of the Berlin wall upon the reunification of Germany. Equating the wall’s removal with an act of historical erasure, the sculpture consists of a broken vase shoddily glued back together displayedin front of a replica of a segmentof the Berlin Wall covered in Robert Gober’s wall-paper Sleeping Man/Hanged Man
. Martin, ab in die Ecke und Schäm dich
(Martin, Into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself), a life-size sculptural self-portrait of a man facing a corner wearing the artist’s clothing, is a more generalized depiction of shame and repentance. A gentle poke at history, as well as the artist’s well known drinking and carousing.