Sotheby's, London, 12 February 2014, Lot 21 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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
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.
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