In terms of its subject, like almost all the works Baselitz produced in the 1960s, Mein Karren refers to the notion of nationhood in the wake of World War II, juxtaposing the nostalgia of the pre-war era, symbolised by the huntsman and the wooden cart, with the horror of the war, which figures as a military jeep surrounded by flecks of red sanguine paint. Speaking in 2007, Baselitz observed that “the artist… must, ought to do all he can – to escape the Zeitgeist. But what no-one can escape, what I could never escape, was Germany, and being German” (Georg Baselitz cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, Georg Baselitz, 2007, p. 11). However, when he began painting in the early 1960s, Baselitz saw that every effort was being made to do just that, not to excuse, but to excise that portion of German history from the collective consciousness. Duly, Baselitz began to paint in a fashion that refused to ignore this legacy, that sought to remind the viewer of Germany’s defeat, to deliberately provoke the backlash that was immediately forthcoming with his first exhibition, where two paintings were confiscated on the grounds of offending public decency. These were works from Baselitz’s first mature series, Groβe Nacht im Eimer (Big Night Down the Drain), which revolved around the image of a flayed, masturbating man, culminating in the grotesque, provocative and masterful painting of the same name, now housed in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne. These works were followed by the Helden, which saw the artist draw upon Mannerist distortion to create images of defeated soldiers with titanic bodies and miniscule heads, holding brushes and flags as well as weapons, archetypes of the vanquished and depleted survivors of devastated post-war Germany. Finally, the ‘Heroes’ were transposed into the Frakturbilder, now figuring as huntsmen, surrounded by animals and tools of their trade, cut up and disfigured by the eponymous compositional scheme.
The present work epitomises Baselitz’s aesthetic and thematic concerns during this pivotal period. The subject’s body turns towards the handle of the contraption, but the head, separated by the fracture, turns furiously away, flanked by a tower of anonymous horizontal bars. Are these fractured repetitions of the handle of the cart, or something altogether more sinister? Perhaps they are in fact a jumbled stack of human arms, echoing the terror evoked by one of the most celebrated fracture paintings, B für Larry, where the central figure is torn apart and littered across the canvas. This ambiguity is pivotal and speaks to Baselitz’s entirely novel style of representation, one that reassesses modern German values through the lens of canonical painting. Provocative, challenging and of seminal importance, the Fracturbilder are the culmination of the aesthetic and conceptual tenets that define Baselitz’s painting from the 1960s, and the works that provided foundation for his production over the following fifty years. Evidencing his sheer mastery of this unique painterly style, Mein Karren is an exceptional painting that evinces a savage beauty as well as the conceptual rigour that characterises the very best of Baselitz’s work.
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