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The immersion of Martin Kippenberger (Dortmund, 1953) into the alternative scene and the hedonist, subversive ambiance of East Berlin at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties was total. His great merit consisted in converting an extravagant life into a permanent performance, a perdurable work of art, timeless in its validity. Known for his work as much as for his partying, Kippenberger was more loyal to his star bars and never-ending nights, than to his own multifaceted, constantly mutating, artistic style.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is exhibiting 300 of his works with the motive that it would have been his 60th birthday, unveiling the plastic universe that Kippenberger created in his brief two decades of magnificence. From the formal point of view, the exhibition isn’t configured by moments in his biography, so much as it is articulated around subjects. A free journey that ventures through the micro-cosmos of an extravagant and ingenious artist with a certain touch of the nihilistic and anarchistic. Some perceive social criticism in his work, others none.
Kippenberger still continues to divide public opinion 16 years after his death: the German newspaper “Tagespiegel” criticises that this exhibition comes late to Berlin and without any truly exhaustive, prior preparation. It reproaches the lack of depth, analysis, connections, catalogue and the absence of key works, maybe due to the fact that the majority of his works pertain to private collectors; “much more was expected of a museum”, they proclaimed. “Die Zeit” on its part, crowned him as the king of “trash” culture that he always wanted to be, calling into question whether he was an exceptional artist, given that without a doubt he wasn’t the first to undermine the cliché of the artist-genius.
In the ‘not retrospective’ exhibition one finds amongst others “Paris Bar” (a large format canvas in which appears the original painting, hanging on the back wall of the emblematic bar, that he also painted –the painting within the painting -); the crucified frogs (mixed media self-portrait-sculpture that caused the indignation of the pope, transmitted in a papal missive), without ignoring his winks at Beuys. In the posters exhibited, one often recognises self-references, in the designs of which Kippenberger used personal symbols and iconography.
As well as biographical material, examples of the magazine “sehr gut – very good” are exhibited, of which he was the author and which lends its name to the exhibition. The publication that ended up being more than one hundred examples, arose out of the eleven famous “sehr gute Bilder”, made on white canvas with infantile calligraphy of the same colour extracted from the evaluations that a nine year old child made of his work. Another of the walls is occupied by the series “Uno di voi, un tudesco in Firenze”, painted during his stay in Florence based on photographs and postcards, presented in Berlin in his first solo exhibition in 1977. In a corner we bump into the life sized sculpture “Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm Dich” (Martin, in the corner, you should be ashamed,) (1989) created in response to an article published in a German art magazine in which he was accused of being a cynical drunk with reproachable politics.
The drawings on business paper or a never-ending pile of restaurant bills, signs of an itinerant life, pertain to “Heavy Mädels”. There are 52 sheets from the Hotel Chelsea in Köln, the Café Central of which Kippenberger regularly attended, as it wasn’t far from his studio. In 1989 for the fifth anniversary of the café, he painted on the mirrors of the café portraits of Louise de Funés, a French actor pigeonholed into perpetual loser roles. Some of these mirrors also form part of the exhibition.
His work is a reflection of his life: integrating underground culture, pop, punk and social realism through purely banal aspects charged with sincere –sometimes even pathetic- irony. Dandy, bad boy, showman, a joker figure, transgressor and verbal communicator to its ultimate consequences. Martin Kippenberger was nothing if not an exhibitionist, whose career was marked by excess, eccentricity and experimentation. He openly admitted his ‘condition’ of alcoholic, mocking himself at the same time as the actual condition?
A prolific and irreverent artist, a cynical lover of controversy and confrontation, Martin Kippenberger is encompassed in the current of German Neo-expressionism as part of the Neue Wilde (New salvajes), along with Georg Herold, the Oehlen brothers and Günter Förg. The bad boys of German Neo-expressionism were united by rebelliousness, provocation and creative freedom, qualities that brought little or nothing new to the future of art. However, Kippenberger made an effort to refine his persona, dismantling the myth of the artist. More than your average anti-hero, Kippenberger was above all a super-antihero, an aspect where he undoubtedly did innovate.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)