Lot 46
  • 46

Martin Kippenberger

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Martin Kippenberger
  • Krieg böse
  • signed and dated 91/92 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 250 by 300cm.; 98 3/8 by 118 1/8 in.


Private Collection, Germany (acquired directly from the artist in 1991)

Galerie Grässlin, Frankfurt

Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 2004)

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2007


Colour: The overall tonality is more vibrant in the original and the green hues are richer with more yellow undertones. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
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Catalogue Note

Monumental in scale and vivacity, the present work is from the series of paintings first initiated in 1984 and entitled Krieg böse, the translation of which is 'War wicked'. Known for his wry artistic wit and steadfast refusal to conform to convention, Martin Kippenberger’s best work examines Germany's collective history through an artistic dialogue rife with humour and thought-provoking historical allusion. During the 1980s, German artists such Anselm Kiefer achieved recognition for the serious depiction of themes related to World War II. Krieg böse is born from Kippenberger’s critique of such art, which he believed failed to challenge stereotypical notions of German culture as sober, wary of impolitic discussion, and fixated on past traumas. Far from wishing to ignore the topic of discussion, Kippenberger aimed to free it. Of the demolished Berlin Wall, he said: “the wall ought to have been preserved. We don’t need excavations, like in Greece – in this country history happens at your front door. Beuys thought the wall should have been seven centimeters higher – on purely aesthetic grounds” (Martin Kippenberger quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective, 2008-09, p. 46).

Sailing upon a sea of vibrant greens a sinister battleship intrudes on the composition of the present work. Standing on the front deck of the military vehicle is a green figure, its beard and hooded cape is akin to the red Santa-Claus visible in other works from the series. The militaristic bent of Krieg böse references German aggression, evocative of the Bismarck, the queen of the German Second World War flotilla, a commerce raider that was sent against Allied merchant shipping before it was sunk at Churchill’s behest in 1941. In Kippenberger’s hands, however, any sense of threat is disarmed by the green gnome-like Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas, known among orthodox Christians for his secret gift giving, is also the patron saint of sailors and merchants. Kippenberger’s visual pun in Krieg böse is to depict the saint of the sea in his more commonly recognisable guise of Santa Claus, a trite symbol of the commercial depravity of today’s society.

This seemingly unlikely and impenetrable juxtaposition of motifs is typical of Kippenberger’s recondite, witty and ironic approach to painting. In his iconoclastic vision, Kippenberger is here referencing the quintessentially German notion of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Specifically, the term relates to the aim of liberal Germans in the post-war decades to deal with the guilt of recent history and the atrocities committed under the Third Reich. Conscious of the imperatives of learning from the past, the generation that grew out of the rubble of war faced crises of personal and national identity, specifically the accountability of the individual vis-à-vis that of the state for a past that was beyond their control. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was characterised by the non-violent rebellion of the flower-power generation, which spread across Europe. In the 1980s, however, while the need to disassociate oneself from past events was still urgently felt by young Germans, there was no established direction to follow, no movement to rally behind, no identity to claim. Herein, Krieg böse continues the imperative of Sigmar Polke, an artist that influenced Kippenberger greatly during his training at the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst in Hamburg. As early as the 1960s Polke began subversively interrogating Germany’s recent past with daring sardonic wit. One such example is Konstruktivistisch (1968) in which the notorious symbol of National Socialism is enlarged and cropped, set against a ground of Lichtenstein-esque ben day dots; the result is an abstract painting that superficially lies somewhere between Constructivism and Pop and yet its formal geometry of interlocking right angles is insidiously symbolic. Following his lead, Kippenberger’s 1984 Ich kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (I can’t for the life of me find a swastika) takes Polke’s formal puzzle to the next level.

But as always with Kippenberger, the seriousness of his subject-matter is couched in irony and humour so that his argument, although provocative, is nonetheless tongue-in-cheek and delivered with caustic wit and aplomb. As Alison Gingeras states, “Kippenberger was political, but that was not his central thesis; it was just another set of rules to exploit" (Alison M. Gingeras, ‘Kippenbergiana: Avant-Garde Value in Contemporary Painting’ in: M. Holbern, Ed., The Triumph of Painting, London 2005, p. 6). Combining wry humour with a frequently satirical viewpoint and an astonishing imaginative flair, Kippenberger’s work encourages us to contemplate the discourse surrounding German history in a completely new light.