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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Martin Kippenberger
1953 - 1997
EIFRAU DIE MAN NICHT SCHUBLADIEREN KANN (EGG LADY WHO CAN’T BE PIEGEONHOLED)
signed with the artist's initials and dated 96
oil on canvas
180 by 150 cm. 70 7/8 by 59 1/8 in.
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Provenance

Private Collection, Europe (a gift from the artist)

Sotheby's, London, 12 February 2014, Lot 21 (consigned by the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Copenhagen, Charlottenborg Exhibition Hall, Display: International Display of Painting, September - October 1997

Mönchengladbach, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Der Eiermann und seine Ausleger, February - April 1997, n.p., no. 131, illustrated

Dortmund, Dortmunder Kunstverein E.V., Martin Kippenberger: Nicht oft gesehen, November 2004 - January 2005, p. 27, illustrated in colour

New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Martin Kippenberger: Eggman II, March - April 2011, p. 21 and p. 28 (exhibition view), no. 4, illustrated in colour

Literature

Gisela Capitain, Regina Fiorito and Lisa Franzen, Eds., Martin Kippenberger: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Four 1993-1997, Cologne 2014, p. 241, no. MK.P 1996.09, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Nearly thirty years after John Lennon sang “I am the egg man” on the B-Side of The Beatles Hello Goodbye, Martin Kippenberger restyled himself as the Egg Woman, bent double and clutching at his fallen underpants. Eifrau die man nicht schubladieren kann or Egg Lady Who Can’t Be Pigeonholed, is the ultimate exposition of this artist’s most deployed motif: the egg. This painting is one of the 23 egg-based works that were created in advance of Kippenberger’s 1996 show at the Städtisches Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach and it aptly demonstrates the way that Kippenberger relied on art historical precedent in order to create his work, calling out the example of his immediate German forebears, and taking influence from Dadaism and beyond. It also exemplifies the manner in which his life, reputation, and personality were deeply ingrained in his paintings. It is a beguiling picture that combines painterly grace with a total lack of decorum, erudite wit with banal humour.

When Martin Kippenberger crashed onto the avant-garde scenes of Berlin and Cologne in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he found the cultural landscape dominated by Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and particularly Joseph Beuys, who was the arbiter of quality and the absolute paradigm of taste. Beuys had built a career trying to elevate and edify the art world through works of increasing conceptual complexity and abstruse artistic intention. Kippenberger, at pains to establish himself, took things in the opposite direction and asserted his position within the German art discourse by lampooning and mocking its most firmly held ideals. Because Beuys had favoured installation art, Kippenberger painted; and because Richter and Polke were painting abstractions, Kippenberger painted figuratively; and because all of his forebears were so serious in their pursuit of artistic quality and excellence, Kippenberger painted badly, deliberately and in flagrante.

It is interesting to look at Kippenberger’s perennial reliance on the egg in this light. He used the motif with unfaltering regularity from the earliest phases of his career and in all of his most important series. There are fried eggs nailed to each of the crucified amphibians that caused such controversy when they were exhibited as part of Kippenberger’s 1990 Fred the Frog Rings the Bell series. Each of his celebrated Picasso Portraits, which show him overweight and hungover in oversized underwear, is populated with ballooning egg-shaped silhouettes. Meanwhile, in his last great installation, the basketball-court sized Happy End to Franz Kafka’s Amerika, a fried egg was reproduced in vast size as a coffee table. By the time of the creation of the present work in 1996, he was ready to construct an entire museum show around the motif, displaying egg drawings, egg paintings, found egg objects, and larger egg sculptures. The egg had become Kippenberger’s calling card; his bathetic retort to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Cézanne’s apple. In his own words: “In painting you have to be on the lookout: what windfall is still left for you to paint? Justice hasn’t been done to the egg, justice hasn’t been done to the fried egg, Warhol’s already had the banana. So you take a form, it’s always about sharp edges, a square, this and that format, the golden section. An egg is white and flat, how can that turn into a coloured picture?” (Martin Kippenberger cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Martin Kippenberger, 2006, p. 63). But the egg was perfect for Kippenberger not only because of the seemingly absurd notion that something so quotidian and mundane as an egg could be elevated into the realm of high art, but also, conversely, because it stood up to the task of prolonged consideration within those same realms. The egg stands for fertility and reproduction, for nurture and parenthood, and – in immaculate white with symmetrical ovoid form – seems a readymade loaded with classical import. Of course, for Kippenberger, it helped that in German Eier is not only the word for egg, but also a colloquial term for testicle. Just as Kippenberger became a great artist in part through his ruthless mockery of the art world status quo, so too the egg became his calling card and predominant motif, in part because at first it had seemed so ridiculous that it might be so.

In the present work, Kippenberger equates the egg motif with his own self-portrait; however, his figure is almost entirely obscured by the egg’s great white expanse so that all we see are the backs of his legs, the heels of his strapped shoes, and his right arm reaching down to pull up a pair of besmirched underpants that are languishing mid-shin. Although sensitively painted, it is a pose of comical indecency; a vignette that seems to fly directly in the face of the noble tradition of idealised portraiture. We are reminded of the aforementioned Picasso Portraits in the inclusion of a pair of giant underpants, and also Kippenberger’s celebrated 1984 painting Down with Inflation, in which he showed himself pontificating with his trousers round his ankles. However, the focal point of this work is the drawer that is referenced in the title and inexplicably pulled out of the centre of the egg. This detail can be read as a clear reference to Dadaism. We think first of René Magritte, who used eggs in his own work not only to further provoke a sense of uncanny irrationality, but also to once more remind us of the difference between representation and object; ceci n’est pas une egg. We also think of Salvador Dalí, whose Venus de Milo with Drawers from 1936 recreated the famous classical sculpture with a number of drawers pulled slightly ajar from her body. The drawer in the present work seems to reference this work directly and, as such, equates Kippenberger’s bedraggled and slap-shod self-image with the idealised beauty of a classical sculpture. It is a juxtaposition of idiosyncratically banal humour.

The Dadaists provided invaluable precedent for Kippenberger. Like him, they were fundamentally opposed to the norms and accepted pre-conditions of the art world as they entered it. Like him, they had no interested in creating images that were merely comforting or pleasant to the viewer, even if, like him, they were capable of creating paintings of captivating beauty when it suited their artistic intention. And like Kippenberger, they created art that continues to beguile and mesmerise viewers still decades after its production. Eifrau die man nicht schubladieren kann is a work that typifies Martin Kippenberger’s oeuvre: preclusive, subversive, and immediately fascinating. It is the high point of his engagement with the egg motif and an exemplar of his conceptual veracity.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London