As part of series of paintings that depicted Baselitz’ friends and colleagues, Franz Dahlem holds an important position in his oeuvre. Dahlem was not only a very close friend of the artist, but also an art dealer and one of his most devoted supporters. Franz Dahlem exhibited Baselitz’ work early on in his gallery in Munich, which he ran together with Heiner Friedrich, and where they showed artists such as Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Joseph Beuys –making him one of the key figures of the German contemporary art world in the 1960s. Their friendship and collaboration continued throughout this decade, and resulted in Dahlem’s support for the artist’s first ‘upside-down’ exhibition in Cologne in 1970, followed by the year-long exhibition of the Freunde paintings at the Goethe-Insitut-Provisorium in Amsterdam in 1972.
The radical notion of an ‘upside-down’ painting emerged from the artist’s struggle to navigate between the concepts of art as an independent entity versus the tradition of representation. The present work, which breaks with the traditional rules of pictorial perspective, is a powerful example of Baselitz’s reinvention of the realist idiom. The artist was keen to distance himself from all forms of ‘official’ art, including the practices of Art Informel favoured in Western Europe, the Socialist Realism sanctioned by East Germany and the discourses of American abstraction.
By turning the painted world on its head, Baselitz sought to entrench the power of the figurative image by reenergising it, to reinvest realism with a new sense of purpose. “Painting is not a means to an end,” stated the artist to explain this decision, “on the contrary; painting is autonomous. And I said to myself: if this is the case, then I must take everything which has been an object of painting –landscape, the portrait and the nude, for example –and paint it upside-down. That is the best way to liberate representation from content” (Georg Baselitz quoted in: Exh. Cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, Georg Baselitz, 1995, p. 71).
In its characteristic inversion of a normalised perspective, Franz Dahlem embodies the artist’s most profound painterly invention that would become a key motif in his work over the subsequent decades. Capturing this radical new trajectory within an age-old medium, whilst depicting a close friend and dealer who played an important role in the artist’s life and career, this makes the present painting a highly fascinating document of the career of one of the most influential German painters of the post-war era.
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