Contemporary Art

Celebrating Germany's "Greatest Living Painter"

By Joe Townend
Georg Baselitz

Portrait of Georg Baselitz, 2014. Courtesy Fondation Beyeler, Basel. Photo: Peter Knaup.

“I consider him to be the greatest living painter,” says Sir Norman Rosenthal, former head of exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. He is talking about painter Georg Baselitz, whose work captured the deepening crisis of a divided Germany following the atrocities of the Second World War. “It’s only with the hindsight of history that we can appreciate the poetry, the grandeur and the significance of his pictures,” Rosenthal says.

Der Brückechor [The Brücke Chorus]

Georg Baselitz, Der Brückechor [The Brücke Chorus], 1983. Courtesy Fondation Beyeler, Basel. Photo © 2014 Christie's Images Limited. © Georg Baselitz, 2018

Baselitz celebrates his 80th birthday this month, and museums across Europe are marking the occasion with a string of exhibitions. In the Swiss city of Basel, the Fondation Beyeler is opening a major retrospective, and director Sam Keller underscores the artist’s importance throughout his six-decade-long career. “For more than half of a century, he has been creating original artworks that have a strong impact on the viewer, have resonated with their time and have influenced following generations of artists. Georg is a great painter and great painters are very rare,” Keller says.

Die grosse Nacht im Eimer [The Big Night Going Down the Drain]

Georg Baselitz, Die Grosse Nacht Im Eimer [The Big Night Going Down the Drain] (detail), 1962–63. Courtesy Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Photo: Jochen Littkemann. © Georg Baselitz, 2018.

A provocateur from the start, Baselitz was expelled from his East Berlin art school in 1957 for “social and political immaturity”. The following year, he migrated to West Germany and by 1980 had been selected to represent it at the Venice Biennale. Since then, he has received accolades from all over the world, including state decorations in France and Austria. Last year, his 1965 painting Mit Roter Fahne (With Red Flag) sold for £7.5m at Sotheby’s.

Verschiedene Zeichen [Various Signs]

Georg Baselitz, Verschiedene Zeichen [Various Signs] (detail), 1965. Courtesy Fondation Beyeler. Photo: Robert Bayer. © Georg Baselitz, 2018.

His enduring significance is due in large part to his authenticity, says Anita Haldemann, head of the department of prints and drawings at Kunstmuseum Basel and curator of its upcoming show Georg Baselitz: Works on Paper. “He has stayed true to himself, and with relentless perseverance has produced a rich and immense body of work.”

Georg Baselitz, Maler (detail), 1969. Courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel. © Kunstmuseum Basel.

For Keller, it is the humanity at the heart of Baselitz’s work that makes him so special. “We are touched when we see art which expresses something real about being human in our time. Some things are the same since the time of cave painting and Baselitz can connect to these human conditions.”


Georg Baselitz
Fondation Beyeler, Basel
(Through 29 April 2018)

This major retrospective unites around 90 paintings and 12 sculptures from European and American museums and private collections. “It aims to tell the story of the essence of the artist’s vast and influential oeuvre,” says Beyeler director Sam Keller. Organised in partnership with the the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, it will travel there in a modified form this summer. One of the key works on display is the “shocking” painting Die große Nacht im Eimer (The Big Night Down the Drain) (1962–1963), which became notorious after it was seized by German authorities on the grounds of obscenity.

Georg Baselitz: Works on Paper
Kunstmuseum Basel
(Through 29 April 2018)

In parallel with the retrospective at the Beyeler is the Kunstmuseum Basel’s exhibition of Baselitz’s works on paper, which features more than 100 drawings. “The drawings show a more intimate and experimental side of his art”, says curator Anita Haldemann. “They are more transparent than his paintings in that the process of searching for solutions and motifs is more visible.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in Maler (Painter) (1969), which began Baselitz’s radical innovation of turning his subjects upside down – “the very moment where his imagery fundamentally changes”.

In Focus: Georg Baselitz Turns 80
Pinakothek der Moderne, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich
(Through 18 February 2018)

The Staatliche Graphische Sammlung will be drawing from its vast collection of over 1,100 works on paper by Baselitz for its four-week-long exhibition In Focus: Georg Baselitz Turns 80. The show is formed from two groups of work: early works from his Helden (Heroes) series (1965–1966), which highlight his expressiveness as a draughtsman; and more recent works as a printmaker. Among the most important works on show will be sheets from the museum’s collection of proofs for his 1990 artist’s book Malelade, which unite colour etchings with an experimental use of the written word.


Georg Baselitz
Fondation Beyeler, Basel (21 January – 29 April)

Georg Baselitz
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC (21 June – 16 September)

Georg Baselitz: Works on Paper
Kunstmuseum Basel (21 January – 29 April)

In Focus: Georg Baselitz Turns 80
Pinakothek der Moderne, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich (23 January – 18 February)


Fondation Beyeler

Kunstmuseum Basel

Pinakothek der Moderne

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