During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Helmut Anton Krätz amassed one of the most significant private collections of contemporary German, Conceptual and Minimalist art of the last century. It was in Frankfurt in 1964, at an exhibition entitled Compass New York, that Krätz’s interest in contemporary art first began to take shape. Over the coming years, and with help from legendary dealers such as Paul Maenz, Heiner Friedrich, Hans Neuendorf and René Block, Krätz became a prominent individual within art world circles and befriended the well-known contemporary art collector Karl Ströher. Indeed, as the collection began to flourish, Krätz learned a great deal from Ströher, from whom he acquired a major Andy Warhol painting of Marlon Brando in 1968.
Krätz had a great interest in Art Deco furniture and design objects, as well as in rare books; however, it was the work of contemporary German artists, and above all Georg Baselitz, that formed the very heart of his collection; indeed, across the wide expanse of the collection, Baselitz would become the most widely represented artist. In this respect, Krätz established himself as one of Baselitz’s earliest and most devoted supporters and in 1971 he would meet Baselitz for the first time. Over the next few years they developed a close friendship, so much so in fact that in 1975 the family rented an apartment in Baselitz’s house in Derneburg. The sudden death of Krätz in 1978, at the age of only 47, thus left behind one of the most in-depth and important Baselitz collections in existence, as well as an outstanding assemblage of works by German contemporaries Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, A.R. Penck, Blinky Palermo, and Joseph Beuys, and significant Conceptual and Minimalist pieces by Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Sol Lewitt and Joseph Kosuth, to name but a few.
In 1991 and 1999 landmark sales of works from the Krätz Collection were held at Sotheby’s in New York. The auctions included such masterpieces as Gerhard Richter’s Mustang-Staffel (1964); the aforementioned Marlon (1966) by Andy Warhol; as well as major works by Baselitz that included the Pandemonium and Hero paintings Hommage a Wrubel (1963) and Ludwig Richter ‘Auf dem Weg zur Arbeit’ (1966), now in the Fröhlich Collection and the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art respectively. Offered from the very same collection, the present three drawings – Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer (1963), Ohne Titel (Kreuz) (1964) and Ohne Titel (Der Neue Typ) (1966) – represent the height of Baselitz’s crucially important 1960s practice whilst utterly encapsulating the excellence, quality, and daring foresight that established the Krätz Collection during the 1960s and 70s.
Georg Baselitz A Crucial Decade
Born in 1938 and aged seven at the end of the Second World War, Georg Baselitz once poignantly described the past that he inherited by saying, “I was born into a destroyed order” (Georg Baselitz in conversation with Donald Kuspit, ‘Goth to Dance’, ArtForum, Vol. 33, Summer 1995, p. 76). Defeated and devastated by the Second World War, the German nation was immersed in further anguish when it was carved up and divided into East and West. The West ‘Federal Republic’ and East ‘Democratic Republic’ forged a fractured arena in which the diametrically opposed ideologies of Western Capitalism and Soviet Communism met head-to-head. The dissection of Berlin itself embodied the schizophrenia of a split country, and the Berlin Wall, - erected in August 1961 and termed the ‘Antifascist Protective Barrier’ by the GDR after more than three million citizens had fled the East in mass exodus, - became perhaps the most powerful totem of the epoch. It was in this segregated city, which had already become the topographical epicentre of a tectonic ideological struggle, that Baselitz began to forge an artistic identity.
Having grown up in the austerity of Communist East Germany, Baselitz moved from East to West Berlin in 1957 and became resident there in 1958, three years before the construction of the Wall. Eschewing the aesthetic dogma of Socialist Realism with his flight from East Germany, Baselitz remained unsatisfied by the pretensions of freedom purported by fashionable movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Tachisme and Nouveau Réalisme. While he was still at art school in 1958, a touring exhibition of American contemporary art came to West Berlin. It was the first time that Baselitz and his German peers had seen works by revolutionary artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Phillip Guston, and Clyfford Still. Scores of young Germans subsequently absorbed abstraction and action painting into their styles. However, Baselitz felt a strong need to take his artistry in a different direction; to create works that acknowledged the trauma of Germany’s recent past: “I wanted to do something that totally contradicted internationalism: I wanted to examine what it was to be a German now” (Georg Baselitz cited in: Nicolas Wroe, ‘Georg Baselitz: "Am I supposed to be friendly?’’', The Guardian, 14 February 2014, online).
Throughout the 1960s, Baselitz worked in a consciously figurative style and flooded his painting with quasi-allegorical figures of distorted monumental gravitas. In these works we are exposed to a profoundly paranoid, part-imagined, part-experienced, part-forgotten memory of a painful, absurd reality that refuses to be consigned to history. It is the truth that we would rather not see: the nightmare that we cannot evade. Just as Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon, twentieth-century masters devoted to portraying the complexities of the human animal, were compelled to stare down taboo and bare their innermost ambitions publicly through their art, so Baselitz found the physical expression of his artistic genius, and thereby the conditions to initiate a career of artistic endeavour that could revolutionise the scope of human enquiry.
Among the most important series from this decade, and within Baselitz’s career as a whole, are those represented by the three drawings presented here from the Krätz Collection. Encompassing the controversial and radical body of work that brought Baselitz to the attention of a wider public for its unashamed confrontation of Germany’s past (Die Grosse Nacht in Eimer) and the series of major works that were to follow and garner great critical acclaim (Die Helden), the present three works should be considered bastions of this crucial decade for Baselitz and for the history of art.
Between 1964 and 1966, in a period of intense creativity, Georg Baselitz produced the most iconic and acclaimed series of his career. Comprising an epic collection of symbolic figures, this body of work consolidated the preceding aesthetic path laid down by the controversial Pandemonium paintings of the early 1960s and embarked on a new subject: the 'Held' (Hero) or ‘Neue Typ’ (New Type). Collectively known as Die Helden (The Heroes), this corpus of paintings and works on paper cemented Baselitz’s early critical standing and today examples from the series find places among the most prestigious museum collections worldwide. More than fifty years after its creation, this seminal series was honoured by a major institutional exhibition that travelled from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, and finally to the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao, between June 2016 and November 2017.
Executed in 1966 – at the very apex of Baselitz’s involvement with the subject – Ohne Titel (Der Neue Typ) is a tremendously articulated work on paper from this important series. Emerging out of a midnight ground and stumbling upon rubble with bare feet, the lumbering figure of Baselitz’s drawing looms into view. Using gouache, ink and pastel, the artist has given the figure a ravaged and tattered look: individual threads and dishevelled strands of hair are blown by the wind in what we infer to be a post-apocalyptic landscape. Encapsulating an equivalent degree of atmosphere and graphic detail as the larger works on canvas from the series, the present drawing is a wonderful shorthand for the series at large. In it we are presented with an expression of the post-war human condition in the Cold War era.
Across the works that comprise this corpus, Baselitz’s protagonists are archetypal of the vanquished and depleted survivors of devastated post-war Germany. Previous critics have conjectured narrative into the isolated figures as ironic ‘Heroes’ returning home from the catastrophes and horrors of conflict, yet still afflicted by the nightmares that beset them. It is certainly true that these solitary wanderers, with their tattered uniforms that expose clumsy wounded bodies, appear mutilated by war. On the other hand, these tragic characters and their isolation testify to the strong effect of German Romanticism on Baselitz’s output at this time. These roaming figures are reminiscent of a specifically Romantic phenomenon, from Goethe’s epistolary novel The Sorrow of Young Werther of 1774 to Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog of 1818. Yet in their ruined corporeality and impoverished countenance, Baselitz undercuts any such reading of Romantic intrepidness.
By challenging the traditions of classical art history through the lens of a culture reeling from the psychological and physical devastation of modern warfare, the present work bears witness to Baselitz’s development of a new painterly idiom though which one might re-access the past as a means of moving ahead. His heightened awareness of the recent past and astute perception of the immediate repercussions of his era led Norman Rosenthal to describe how he “has striven constantly to confront the realities of history and art history, to make them new and fresh in a manner that can only be described as heroic” (Norman Rosenthal, ‘Why the Painter Georg Baselitz is a Good Painter’, in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Georg Baselitz, 2007, p. 15). The ‘Hero’ cycle, as perfectly epitomised by the present work, is a superb manifestation of this acute insight: drawing together traditions of art history, enlisting references to a catastrophic past, and marking unrepentant observations on a contemporary epoch in disarray.
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