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January 2009, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective MOCA

January 2009, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective MOCA
Martin Kippenberger, Disco Bomb, 1989, courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

 

Failing Up: Or, vergangenheitsbewältingung
Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective
MOCA
By Jesi Khadivi
 
The Problem Perspective, Martin Kippenberger’s first retrospective in the United States, is a lot to take in. The artist worked in an exhaustive array of media including sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, and book art. Kippenberger built complex relational webs encompassing the role of the artist within cultural production, issues of authorship, Germaneness, shame, and guilt--all filtered through a caustically irreverent sensibility. Curator Ann Goldstein presents the breadth and depth of the artist’s extensive oeuvre, showcasing favorites like the photorealistic series of paintings Lieber maler, male mirseries (Dear Painter, Paint for me, ) and the sprawling installation The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika (1994), in addition to lesser known works. Kippenberger was nothing if not brash. For better or worse, his braggadocio deemed everything he touched a work of art, from paintings (sometimes painted by Kippenberger, sometimes others) to doodles on hotel stationary. His post-humous popularity is due in equal parts to his emphasis on the conceptual aspects of art and his fecund creative impulse. His extreme self-consciousness about his role as an artist (played out in his innumerable self-portraits) and his consistent exploration of art and value (the series Preis is perhaps the most succinct articulation of this impulse), have been hot topics for contemporary artists. Still, some of most compelling works in the exhibition are deeply rooted in the political history of his motherland, Germany.
 
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 ManMartin, 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.
 


 

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Jesi Khadivi in LA


Jesi Khadivi is a writer and curator living in Los Angeles. She writes for Venus Zine and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. She recently completed research on the definitive biography of Gram Parsons and is currently working on her first book.  gramparsonsinterviews@gmail.com

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