Private Collection, Nagoya
Sale: Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art: Part One, 14 November 2001, Lot 57
Luhring Augustine, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2010
New York, Luhring Augustine, Twenty Five, 2010
Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Museum, Martin Kippenberger, 2011-12
There are four major tranches to Kippenberger’s opus of self-portraiture that can be divided into four correspondingly landmark years: 1981, 1988, 1992 and 1996. The first major set of self-portraits emerged in 1981 as part of the seminal series of photo-realist paintings Lieber Maler Male Mir (Dear Painter Paint For Me); in 1988 the extraordinary corpus of Picasso Portraits witness Kippenberger broach for the first time his affinity with Pablo Picasso; in 1992 the works created on the island of Syros (to which the present work belongs) delve deeper into self-scrutiny and a retrospective consideration of his past work; while the final corpus of works from 1996 melancholically re-frame the artist in relation to Théodore Géricault’s masterpiece of harrowing Romanticism, The Raft of the Medusa.
Self-publicising had always been an incessant activity for Martin Kippenberger. He peddled his public persona to make a mark and draw attention, scattering himself and his products around with intent. Whether in the form of paintings, posters, invitations, musical performances, or drunken antics, the artist steadily built his very own mythology characterised by rebellion and anarchy. During these years of ‘sex, drugs, and rock and roll’ he raised self-promotion to a way of life and exalted it to the status of art. With the following decade however, Kippenberger turned more exclusively to painting as the primary means of proliferating, and simultaneously scrutinising, his self-cultivated artist-myth.
Having reached a height of notoriety by the end of the 1980s, Kippenberger had achieved a critical acclaim to match; indeed the suite of self-portraits created in 1988 speaks to this new-found success with ego-centric aplomb. That the artist resembles the famous pictures taken by David Douglas Duncan of Pablo Picasso in his white bathrobe posing with his greyhound is not coincidental. Daniel Baumann explains: “The discovery of his resemblance to a genius, something his unconscious had clearly long since accepted, along with the way the first signs of a beer belly intensified his masculinity, must have been very exciting” (Daniel Baumann, ‘The way you wear your hat’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Martin Kippenberger, 1998, p. 67). Kippenberger however balances this narcissism with tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation. He appears in these works as a bloated middle-aged man, 20 years of excess showing in the well-cultivated beer belly that magnificently emerges above the unflattering white underwear hoisted over his hips. At the age of 35 and with the signs of age manifesting, an increasing cognisance of his own transience would no doubt have wounded Kippenberger’s vanity. The artist appears round shouldered, thick set, broad chested, with bulging folds of skin, long arms and a large head. A dejected, awkward and melancholic figure, Kippenberger evacuates his own image of the masculinity so potent in Duncan’s pictures of the ageing Picasso. The diminishing phallic command of Kippenberger’s bad-boy image is unleashed as the subject of these extraordinary self-images, an enquiry that would come to dominate the entirety of his future self-portraiture.
Kippenberger mourned the demise of the Romantic heroic artist through his own self-image. Kunsthalle Basel curator Peter Pakesch explicates further: “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). Four years later he continued the process of working through this loss via a parody of his own theatrical self-indulgence; he begins to appear progressively lacking and incomplete in his work, feebly aping his cultivated artistic identity. As noted by Baumann: “His proactive behaviour 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… 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). At this point, the infamy surrounding Kippenberger’s myth had reached its zenith and he in turn had withdrawn himself from the art world.
During an extended stay with his friend Michael Würthle (owner of the famous Paris Bar in Berlin), Kippenberger set up a studio on the Greek island of Syros. The island had a major impact on the artist and it was this location in which he created his 1992 opus of self-portraits, including Ohne Titel (Meine Lügen sind Ehrlich). Many of these works are imbued with a heavy-handed classicism – an unmistakable allusion to Greece’s link to antiquity and the birth of western art history. Poses gleaned from ancient statuary or sporting disciplines such as shot-put and discus-throwing are complemented by the superimposition of Greek-Cyrillic text codifying phrases in German. In the present work, ‘My Lies are Honest’ is boldly spelt out in calligraphic script both in front of and behind Kippenberger’s crouching nude self. As though an artistic confession, this perplexing and paradoxical phrase provokes an allusion to deception and trickery. Indeed, where at first Kippenberger appears to evoke a classical statuesque pose in situ next to a pedestal like-column, closer inspection elucidates his ungainly monkey-like posture, scraggly beard, club feet and drooping stomach, while the pedestal or column reveals itself to be an archetypal metal rubbish bin. Naked and somewhat vulnerable, once again Kippenberger’s corporeal manifestation of both the ideal male body and the machismo artist-genius falls typically short.
Continuing the themes central to the 1988 portraits, the 1992 works are nonetheless distinguished for their marked contemplation, thoughtful retrospective musings and pronounced technical invention. Though once again looking at himself with tongue-in-cheek derision, Kippenberger is also looking back at his career: the shadow like shapes dispersed behind the artist encompasses a ghost-like intimation of a platform boot in the bottom right corner. This directly alludes to both a sculpture and a painting of a disco boot from 1987 entitled Bergwerk (Mine). Furthermore, the artist’s proximity to a rubbish bin is reminiscent of one of the self-portraits from the 1981 Lieber Maler series in which Kippenberger is presented as a proud and noble purveyor of trash on a Manhattan sidewalk. As previously mentioned, though Kippenberger continues to evoke the photos of a semi-nude middle-aged Picasso, in these works he is also looking to the Twentieth Century master on a technical level. This is evident in the bold painterly treatment of the present work: the curvilinear articulation of the body; the modulating colour palette of grey, blue and flesh tonalities; and the way in which the background is fragmented into tessellating cubic shapes. All of which shares a pronounced affinity with the 1907 masterpiece of Picasso’s African Period, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Under a hot-red sun and in the midst of a panoramic sky-line, a bolt of lightning courses through picture plane and into Kippenberger’s crouched body. Perhaps representing the moment of divine inspiration, Kippenberger clearly celebrates his abilities as a painter in this work. As outlined by Daniel Baumann, in the 1992 self-portraits it seemed as though Kippenberger was “letting himself be seduced by his own virtuosity while following the example of his classic predecessors” (Daniel Baumann, op. cit., p. 68). Such virtuosity is resolutely apparent in Ohne Titel (Meine Lügen sind Ehrlich). Replete with influence, inspiration and allusion, and full of complex symbolic reference, this piece deservedly belongs among the painter’s most dramatic and ambitious works.
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