b. 1953, Dortmund, West-Germany, d. 1997
Martin Kippenberger (1953–1997) was one of the most complex artists of the 1980s and 1990s and is today considered to be amongst the most important of his generation. As an enfant terrible, he first attracted the attention of the art world with his charismatic, humorous and provocative approach, together with others of the “Neue Wilden” tendency such as Werner Büttner, Albert Oehlen, and Günter Förg.
His productive oeuvre, covering a multiplicity of styles and media, came to an abrupt end when he died at only forty-four years of age.
The first shifts towards new and expressive figuration appeared in Germany in the 1960s with artists such as Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz and Bernd Koberling, and the appearance of the Neue Wilden in the 1980s marked the peak of this trend. Kippenberger first made his mark as a painter at this time, when figurative and narrative paintings were enjoying an upswing following the Minimalism and Conceptualism of the 1970s. Kippenberger’s punk temperament, audacious motifs and chaotic picture compositions are part of an artistic tradition that embraces Dadaism and Pop art and includes fellow countrymen such as Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. The complexities and contrasts in his picturesque collages, often employing numerous layers of paint, and of overlapping associations and dissimilarities, can seem overwhelming. Dissimilar fields clash and figurative motifs are superimposed on more abstract strokes. His use of “pictures in the pictures,” combined with letters and titles, thwarts clear-cut interpretation.
At first glance, Kippenberger can appear ironic, though he was not ironically distanced from either the form or the content in his work. He does, however, employ humour and takes a sarcastic sideways glance at society, cloaking his feelings of restlessness, emptiness and abandonment. Working at a time when he considered it impossible to come up with anything original or genuine – and faced with what he considered to be “the death of painting” – he produced composite paintings that embraced diametrically different styles in a single work.
But Kippenberger’s art is not limited to painting; it also finds expression in installations, sculptures, performance, texts, sketches, publications and other artefacts. He kicked out in many directions and commented in his ambiguous way on everything from postwar Germany’s efficiency, to Nazism, the left-wing terrorist group R.A.F, the Cold War, modernist architecture and the museum as an institution.
Kippenberger was often on the move between Florence, Hamburg, Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne, Spain, Tenerife, Los Angeles and Greece. Reflecting this activity, he conceived a conceptual worldwide metro system, METRO-Net World Connection, in which non-functioning stations would be placed in the unlikeliest locations from Alaska to Syros. Through flight of thought, these could serve as his means of escape to different parts of the world. His travels and his social energy also brought him many international contacts, and his unwavering commitment to other artists made him an art collector, curator and director. He would even commission contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool to design his exhibition posters. In this sense, Kippenberger can be seen as an artist who was ahead of his time, taking upon himself all the tasks that artists today take for granted, including curating exhibitions, writing texts, self-promotion, and working globally, collaboratively, and interdisciplinarily.
(Photo courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne)