Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1985
London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Georg Baselitz: Paintings 1964-1967, 1985, n.p., no. 3, illustrated in colour
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo Kulturstiftung; Edinburgh, Scottish National Library of Modern Art; and Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Ludwig, Georg Baselitz: Retrospective, 1964-1991, 1992
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Under Development: Dreaming the MCA’s Collection, 1994
Baselitz presents an anamorphic vision of his subject which sits between sardonic grotesquerie and germinal vitality; a paradox he set out in the early 1960s with investigative portraits such as his G-Kopf painting from 1960 and Kopf-Ohr etching from 1964, which accentuate certain figurative features whilst negating others. The ear in particular became an object of concern, departing from its typical auricular form and merging into seemingly entire globular heads. In the present work the engorged ear curls into a foetal shape, recalling Jean Fautrier’s Otages in which amorphous impasto symbolises battered human flesh. Baselitz revered the work of Fautrier, even displaying his photograph at the first Pandemonium exhibition which, too, explored the gritty sentiments of his 1961-62 manifestos. In a letter from 1963, the artist in a similar ilk to Fautrier, describes “the best bit” of his own work being “pounding a face or head to pap,” however through his fleshy gestures, Baselitz more literally denotes the atrophy of the human form, aligning himself with the artistic might of Chaim Soutine (George Baselitz, ‘Letter to Herr W., Berlin/ 8 August 1963’ in: ibid., p. 32).
Painted in 1965, Ralf-kopf pre-dates Baselitz’s inverted pictures by four years and sits within a germinal body of work which would form the basis of artistic investigations that still continue today. Ralf-kopf was created at the same time as Baselitz’s revered Hero paintings which engage with violent mythology, post-war entropy and Social-Realist iconography. The exaggerated features, contrasted colours, bold lines and pensive gaze in Ralf-kopf chime with the Hero paintings, yet the isolation of the figure in the present work allows for greater attention to be paid to formal qualities and raw emotion. The trichotomy between figure, form and emotive gesture became progressively more important as Baselitz’s oeuvre developed through the late 1960s and beyond, his paintings eventually becoming inverted to emphasise this conviction which concurrently canonised Baselitz as one of the most iconic artists of the Twentieth and Twenty-First centuries. It is, however, these early paintings which have become the most highly prized amongst collectors and critics alike; brimming with the fecund premise of Baselitz's entire artistic oeuvre, they mark a profound moment in contemporary art’s history. Ralf-kopf is a seminal example from this most revered period; sympathetically painted with a bold flurry of abstract forms, Baselitz aggregates the fragmentary into meaningful gestures, which culminate in a pervading air of what the artist would describe as “soothing fetishistic agonies of conscience” (Georg Baselitz, ‘Pandemonium 2’ in: ibid., p. 25).
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