- Martin Kippenberger
- Die Mutter von Joseph Beuys
- signed with the artist's monogram and dated 84
- oil on canvas, in 4 parts
- overall: 240 by 200 cm. 94 1/2 by 78 3/4 in.
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Vienna, Galerie Peter Pakesch, Kippenberger: Sind die Discos so doof wie ich glaube, oder bin ich der Doofe, November 1984
Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Martin Kippenberger: Miete Strom Gas, June - August 1986, p. 60, illustrated (installation view)
Aachen, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Sammlung Schürmann, Dirty Data, June - August 1992, n.p., illustrated
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Martin Kippenberger, October 2004 - January 2005, p. 105, illustrated in colour
Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Die 80er: Figurative Malerei in der BRD, July - October 2015, pp. 93 and 207, illustrated in colour
Angelika Taschen and Burkhard Riemschneider, Eds., Kippenberger, Cologne 1997 and 2003, p. 95, no. 50, illustrated in colour
Roberta Smith, 'Martin Kippenberger, 43, Artist of Irreverence and Mixed Styles', The New York Times, 11 March 1997, p. 24, illustrated
Uwe Koch, Ed., Annotated Catalogue Raisonné of the Books by Martin Kippenberger, 1977-1997, Cologne 2002, p. 231, illustrated (inside Kippenberger, Cologne 1997)
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From a conceptual perspective, the present work should be viewed as the direct progeny of the celebrated Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear Painter, paint for me) series. For these works, executed in the early 1980s in the years directly preceding the present work, Kippenberger hired Mr Werner, a Berlin sign painter, to make paintings based on images that he supplied. It was a subversive gesture specifically designed as a riposte to the rising stars of the German art world at the time, such as Helmut Middendorf and Reiner Fetting, whose burgeoning careers were buoyed up by critical appreciation for their specific sense of gesture and idiosyncratic styles of painterly execution. In employing a third party to complete his works, which appear nonetheless impressive and grandiose, Kippenberger satirised and undermined the artistic contributions of his painterly peers to the contemporaneous avant-garde. Consonant with the entirety of his oeuvre, Kippenberger was zealous in demonstrating his conceptual prowess over his own skill as a painter of executive skill.
In Die Mutter von Joseph Beuys, Kippenberger takes a directly comparable approach. Where in earlier series he had aimed his subversive wit at mere contemporaries, in the present work he takes on the godfather of German conceptualism: Joseph Beuys. By 1984, Beuys had achieved success of mythic proportion and exerted almost complete hegemony over the German art world. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Beuys had continually innovated and pushed the boundaries of conceptualism and performance art; he had collaborated extensively with Andy Warhol; he had exhibited multiple times at documenta and the Venice Biennale; and he had enjoyed major retrospectives at some of the most prestigious museums and institutions in the world. Kippenberger thus deliberately mocked Beuys’ legacy, and sardonically looked to interrupt the critical dominance the elder artist had cast across Europe and beyond. Indeed, in order to counteract Beuys’ famous idealism, expressed through his maxim “everyone is an artist”, Kippenberger coined his own ironic version of the phrase, intended to shatter the cloud of mythic reverence and abstruse intellectualism that surrounded successful artists of his day: “every artist is a human being”. The present work represents that moment whereupon Kippenberger came closest to a personal attack on the elder statesmen of the zeitgeist. In presenting the viewer with a portrait of Beuys’ mother, Kippenberger not only strikes an intimate personal chord, but also portrays him as an artist already consigned to the history books. We automatically think of Beuys in the same ranks as those artists who had already engaged with this famous trope of ‘mother’ as subject: James Whistler, Vincent van Gogh, even Lucian Freud. We are reminded of immensely important and art historically revered masters who, though canonical, were entirely devoid of contemporary relevance to the conceptual verve of 1980s Germany. With this work, Kippenberger launches a volley upon Beuys – an attack of mock condescension. He frames him as an obsolete Old Master who has had his day at the forefront of the avant-garde and is now ready to be put out to pasture. Through this seditious move, Kippenberger installs himself in Beuys’ place, and asserts his role at the centre of the conceptual discourse.
In this light, Die Mutter von Joseph Beuys should also be understood as a self-portrait. Possessing curved cheekbones, a well-defined jaw, and long thin nose, the subject of this work is demonstrably Kippenberger himself. In the source image upon which the present work is based – an image that had incidentally been widely circulated in Beuys monographs – the face of Beuys’ mother was all but obscured, hidden underneath a rain-hat in a photograph taken from some distance. By melding his own face with her indistinctly documented features, Kippenberger not only compounds the mood of sardonic wit that suffuses the entirety of his output, but also makes a further attempt to include his own identity at the heart of the art historical debate. In this way, the present work can be seen as a direct precursor to the celebrated ‘Picasso Paintings’: a group of works executed in 1988 in which Kippenberger repeatedly painted himself in the guise of Picasso. In a similar mode to the present work, Kippenberger mocks the celebrated modern art genius by burlesquing famous images of Picasso and inserting himself in the senior artist’s place.
Throughout his career, Martin Kippenberger wanted to expose and express human fallibility and artistic imperfection. As much as in the Liebe Maler, male mir series and the Picasso Paintings of 1988, the present work satirises and unpicks art historical reverence. In pastiching Joseph Beuys with such vicious and precise accuracy, he was not so much trying to elevate his own artistry up to Beuys’ level, or even to that of Fetting or Middendorf, as trying to drag them down to his own – to what he viewed as the level of the common man. In this regard, the present work is an ultimate exemplar by the bad boy of German contemporary art. Endlessly rewarding in interpretation, entirely complete in conceptual relevance, and completed across a massive scale this painting should be considered as work of extraordinary quality and exceptional wit.