Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner in the late 1960s
During the early 1960s Baselitz immersed himself in Hans Prinzhorn’s influential and richly illustrated book ‘The Art of the Mentally Ill’ (1922), a text that had already become a key point of reference for Jean Dubuffet in his development of Art Brut during the late 1940s. As elucidated by Prinzhorn, art-making performed a cathartic function for patients of mental illness, and in this Baselitz saw a potential solution for processing the wider pscho-social trauma of the post-war era. The philosophical dimension of Baselitz’s ambitions was expressed through the Pandämonisches Manifest ('Pandemonium Manifesto') that he authored with Eugen Schönebeck in 1961 and 1962. These treatises consisted of typed and handwritten text accompanied by chaotic and apocalyptic drawings, and interrogated the limits of paranoia: "the discharges of the flesh, the sexual fantasticality... Pandemonic entrenchment that leaves no more hope" (Georg Baselitz and Eugen Schönebeck, Pandämonisches Manifest II, Spring 1962). For Baselitz, as art historian Schulamith Behr has outlined, wider artistic and social renewal was dependent on “a charged combination of infantile regression and aggressive provocation. Creative self-ethnology involved an embrace of estranged identities: the asocial, the insane, the deviant and the amoral; categories deemed ‘degenerate’ during the Third Reich” (Shulamith Behr, in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of the Arts, Georg Baselitz, 2007, p. 51). The contentious juxtaposition presented by Ohne Titel (Kreuz), in its sexualisation of the holy Christian symbol of salvation, pinpoints the ‘aggressive provocation’ at the heart of Baselitz’s artistic strategy during the early 1960s.
Towards the end of the Pandomium phase and following the infamous exhibition of Die Grosse Nacht em Eimer (Big Night Down the Drain) in 1963, Baselitz began producing the Idol paintings before his transition into the Hero or New Type portraits of 1964 and 1965. At the crossroads between these two bodies of work, Ohne Titel (Kreuz) hints at the wounded trees that occupy the Hero paintings as well as the hallucinatory and iconic forms of the Idols. Moreover, however, the dominant cross-motif echoes the artist’s engagement with this icon during 1964 in other large-scale paintings such as Das Kreuz, in which a large red cross is superimposed with a fleshy and carbuncular humanoid face that presides over an idyllic village setting. Echoing Joseph Beuys’ symbolic vernacular – the cross entered Beuys’ production in 1943 as a shorthand for his experiences during the war – Baselitz’s preoccupation with this heavily loaded symbol at once challenges a pre-existing visual code tied to religion and takes up its secular unitary portent. Created only two years after the Berlin Wall was constructed, Das Kreuz and the present work hint at the potential for transformation through overcoming taboo and decrepitude.
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