had decreed that “Every human being is an artist”, Kippenberger stood with Oehlen to boldly remind us that “Every artist is a human being”.
Kippenberger and Oehlen were artists in every medium: photographers and performers as well as authors, publishers, producers and printmakers. They were painters who seized upon the genre at a time when Minimalism and Conceptualism had declared it dead. In the 1980s, their paintings were deliberately rebellious; deliberately ‘bad’ according to accepted principles of artistic accomplishment; they rejected study drawing and academic draughtsmanship and only ever consciously identified with art-historical precedent in order to defile it. Oehlen ridiculed his own practice so that no critic could denigrate it further: “I never took figurative work seriously, even when I did it. I thought it was bullshit. The early self-portraits are highly ironic” (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Jennifer Samet, ‘Beer with a Painter: Albert Oehlen’, Hyperallergic, 8 April 2017, online). Kippenberger took it a step further, styling a drunken frog as his artistic alter-ego, and nailing it to across made from stretcher bars originally intended for paintings; a figure so ridiculous it was beyond ridicule, and so blindly offensive that it caused an international incident when it later appeared in exhibition; a visual parody of the archetypal suffering artist.
Kippenberger and Oehlen travelled together. They took their band – The Alma Band – on tour to Brazil, where Kippenberger stayed to carry out a number of wider conceptual projects and complete a dazzling self-portrait on Ipanema beach. Their most important trip took place in 1988, when they rented a house together in the southern Spanish town of Carmona. For Oehlen, it was the moment that he opened up to abstraction – the first step on the path that led him to such vast, dramatic, and colourful works as Die Badenden. For Kippenberger, it was the beginning of his underpants paintings, which show him in a pair of vast whiteY-fronts, aping a famous photo of Pablo Picasso and glorifying in his own absurdity. In Spain, Kippenberger also began making his street lamp works in earnest, casting, bending, and twisting the lamp posts to create sculptures that took mundane quotidian form but competed in the realms of high art. Both series show Kippenberger at his ebullient best: at once egotistical and self-effacing; parodic and pathetic. By embracing failure and exploiting disappointment, both he and Oehlen came to change the course of the twentieth-century art discourse, and create countless works of powerful aesthetic impact and intense conceptual force.
“For what makes these [Hotel] drawings compelling is not merely their status as individual documents, but their ever-generative seriality, […] the ubiquity of hotel stationary thus stands in for the itinerant values of the artist” (Pamela M. Lee, ‘If Everything Is Good, Then Nothing Is Any Good Any More’, in: Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective, 2008, p. 204).
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