Printer Friendly

The Happy End of Kippenberger's Amerika.

MARTIN KIPPENBERGER SPAWNED A WEALTH OF ART-WORLD legends in his truncated career. His practice seemed specifically designed to maintain a steady buildup of anecdotes, many of which continue to circulate today, six years after his death. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Kippenberger's birth, this month sees the opening of a major retrospective of his entire career at the Museum fur Neue Kunst ZKM in Karlsruhe, with additional stops in Vienna and Eindhoven. Though his influence in Europe will be debated and discussed for a long time to come, there is no question that he is one of the most significant German artists of his generation.

Given the reach of his reputation in Europe, it is somewhat surprising that there are no plans for the exhibition to travel to the United States. Kippenberger had a one-man show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1991, and his massive Happy End of Franz Kafka's "Amerika" (first shown in 1994 in Rotterdam) was included in the 1999 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and mounted a year later at the Renaissance Society in Chicago. But his numerous gallery appearances at Metro Pictures, Nolan/Eckman, and David Zwirner in New York, as well as at the former Luhring Augustine Hetzler in Santa Monica, have never been augmented here by a museum-scale overview of his extensive body of work. Merely to consider his impact on installation practices beginning in the late '80s should prompt recognition of the need to reexamine his contribution.

If Kippenberger's prestige in the US is uncertain, "Amerika" was nevertheless a regular stop on his ever-expanding global itinerary. For an artist renowned for his spongelike capacity to take in whatever was immediately at hand and spit it back out with his unmistakable imprint, the US represented a bonanza of cultural source material of all kinds. As in Kafka's posthumously published novel Amerika (1927)--whose protagonist, Karl Rossmann, traverses an absurdly bureaucratic maze before landing a job in the hallucinatory Nature Theater of Oklahoma--the country most firmly identified with a sudden rise to success certainly appealed to an ambitious artist like Kippenberger. Still, he did not always feel at home in Los Angeles and New York. Though he was adept at setting up bases from which to operate (usually restaurants or bars), the dispersed geography of Southern California and the hectic pace of life in Manhattan were far less manageable than the midsize city of Cologne.

Despite his craving for a reliable social environment, Kippenberger was constantly on the road. As a teacher and habitual visiting artist, he made his presence felt in a number of American art schools. The remarks by six colleagues of Kippenberger's that follow touch on the artist's famous generosity to students and friends, yet they also acknowledge his notorious ability to alienate and aggravate his audience.

Kippenberger didn't live to hear the recent calls for an end to irony. One suspects that he would have responded to such developments with typical candor and wit. Indeed, a provocateur of his stature is sorely missed in this moment when gravitas and sanctimony are the reigning tones of public discussion in the US. This should be reason enough for bringing his work back to our shores.


Hotel Sweet

Whenever I'm asked about whose work influenced me, I always say Martin Kippenberger. It's hard for me to let go of the fact that he isn't here any longer. When I was involved with him, he was painting every day, but painting very rapidly. I love the hotel drawings. There is a certain tenderness that's almost surprising. I had one of Martin's large underwear paintings in my living room.

I first met Martin in 1986 through Max Hetzler. The gallery thought it would be interesting to show some New York artists in Cologne; Bob Gober, Jon Kessler, and I were invited to be in a group show. I felt completely at home. It really seemed that Martin made an effort to embrace the artists, taking them under his wing in this environment. Whenever he came to New York, we'd get together, but most of the interaction was in Europe.

I always enjoyed Martin's abstract side. Twentieth-century art seems very much about dislocating imagery, and Martin plays a lot with dislocation. Some people have a lot of anxiety about making a gesture, and that anxiety confines them. Martin's art is really the opposite: It's about removing the anxiety around the gesture. Martin was very open to everything around him. I always loved his bent lampposts. He understood a certain aspect of the readymade, just taking the information at hand and removing options. Martin's work is specific; its specificity comes from his being able to look at whatever is directly available. He really kept himself razor sharp at every moment. Martin's work strives to let viewers feel good about themselves. It's trying to give the viewer a sense of self-empowerment. Also, it gives a sense of independence and possibility. Through art, people have a more positive sense of their own possibilities.

I know the '80s have always been labeled as cynical, but I never found it that way at all. I thought that artists were very generous and they felt a moral responsibility to their audience. Martin believed that art could have an impact and an effect. The idea that one person can achieve something and do something that can help other people--it seems to me that Martin believed in that. I think that's something we shared.

Jeff Koons is a New York-based artist.


Peter Principle

From about the late '80s to the mid-'90s I went back arid forth between New York and Germany and Austria. There were plenty of occasions of notoriously bad behavior; it seemed to be an excuse for lots of people to get drunk and take to the tables, like some male-artist rite of passage. As a woman, I sidestepped the sexual stuff that always seemed to be part of the bargain. I was appalled at the misogyny.

I've been thinking about Martin's 1990 exhibition of paintings at Metro Pictures. It was surprising to me at the time that people who had been so absolutely on board with his work disparaged the paintings. The idea of irony and "bad painting" has roots in European practice that make it so much more established as a methodology: I'm thinking of Picabia and, in the '60s, Polke and Richter. The acceptance of that work in this country is not a given. I always thought that there was more of an aesthetic climate in Europe that supported Martin's practice than there was here.

Yet I think there was a lot more acceptance in New York for Kippenberger's installation techniques. I remember in 1987 seeing the "Pete?' exhibition at its first venue at Max Hetzler's in Cologne, which stopped me in my tracks. The show coincided with a certain kind of rupture that was beginning to be seen in the United States, at least in terms of production values and aesthetics. This was around the time that Cady Noland was starting to show, and one could certainly view what was taking place as a reaction against high production values and the utter commodification of posrmodern art. This attitude was not so foreign to the art experience in the late '80s. The "Peter" installation was so crowded and overloaded that its design seemed to be obscured by chaos. I think that could be said to be constant in Martin's work. It was about the accumulation of things, the production of a field. The virtue of Kippenberger's Hetzler installation is that it proposed something so radically different that I didn't know how to look at it and assign value.

My suspicion is that Martin was far more serious about what he did than most people ever realized. He had his own brand of seriousness, even if it wasn't as elaborate as that of, say, Marcel Broodthaers. There was one moment that was very telling for me. Martin's paintings, several dozen of them, had been installed and were ready for the opening, and we were waiting to go to lunch. But here was Martin, measuring everything, making sure every painting was hanging straight on the wall. I thought it was so anachronistic in relation to the paintings. It seemed to belie the notion of spontaneity and casualness as the prevailing idiom.

The whole idea of positioning was important for him--that something not be too beautiful, that it must have integrity but must also be confrontational and challenging. There was an attempt at the time to valorize a kind of aesthetic impoverishment as authentic and genuine. I always thought Martin had the right touch. He took art seriously, but it was never precious. For him, making art was as easy as falling off a log. I don't think that says anything about the quality of his work. I just think he was very natural and gifted in the way he went about making stuff.

A contributing editor of Artforum, Jan Avgikos teaches at Columbia University in New York.


Blue Streak

I met Kippenberger in 1986 or 1987 on my first trip to Cologne; of course I'd already heard a lot about him. We were at the Konigswasser bar, and Kippenberger, keeping a low profile, was camped out in the back by the cigarette machine. He was wearing a suit and a turtleneck; I thought he looked like a priest.

Some of the best stand-up performance I ever saw was Martin telling jokes in the back of some bar or restaurant. I must have heard the "wishy-washy joke"--an endless and basically senseless wordplay--ten times before I had someone explain it to me, but I always laughed like crazy anyway; his sense of humor could be very abstract. A few years later I had a show in Cologne of some new paintings that included a little color for the first time. After dinner Kippenberger stood up and gave a toast: "Here's to Christopher Wool and his BIG breakthrough in blue." When he was living in LA in the early '90s, he gave me a toast after my opening that was more like a speech. I hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about... no one did; it was beyond abstract. I was honored anyway, and of course it was entertaining. People were often scared of him; he could be very intimidating, and it was always interesting to see how they would react, especially here in the States. Sometimes Martin giving a toast felt dangerous.

In 1995 Martin invited me to participate in his MOMAS [Museum of Modern Art, Syros] project. He had been summering on this Greek island and had discovered a half-built industrial building. In this Kippenbergian way he had decided that it looked like the Parthenon because it sat on a hill over the port. Actually, it was a perfect example of one of his "Psycho-buildings." He invited artists to do "nonart," on-site versions of their work. Heimo Zobernig was asked to "make" the floor by painting the existing cement floor gray. A small building was dubbed a Hubert Kiecol. Martin decided he needed road signs so people could find his museum. (Of course there were no people looking for his museum, but that was the point.) So I made him some signs and even made him a few T-shirts: NO PROBLEM MOMAS. He wouldn't drink when he was on the island, and it was during the hot Greek summer. The talk was much more philosophical, even melancholic. He said something that at the time seemed odd. It was something to the effect of, "I don't want to be remembered as a great artist. I just want to be remembered as someone who always made for a good time."

Christopher Wool is an artist based in New York.


Excess Story

I recall Kippenberger's second exhibition at Metro Pictures, the "Peter" show, in 1987. It looked like a Kippenberger warehouse; it was completely filled with objects. I got to spend quite a bit of time with him then. When he arrived in New York at that moment, when neo-geo was the marshaled step of the day, he represented something different from its brand of crisp intellectualism, a certain kind of confident casualness and tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the theoretical apparatus that the American work begged for. In a certain way, he was the antithesis of the order of the day. At the Metro show, the work looked like it had been hauled upstairs from the basement. There was no rhyme or reason to it. The installation, along with the artist himself, made terribly good sense at the time.

When I first saw Martin's pictures, I was concerned that there was some sort of revival of neo-expressionism going on. Painting in and of itself was suspect. But it became fairly clear that there was a cosmopolitan, contemporary edge to his work that separated it from the other stuff. I think he was very critical of neo-expressionism. Like Tom Lawson, he recognized that painting was at such a low point that nobody took it seriously; everybody thought that it was embalmed, so they could exploit it without having to be particularly concerned with its history. Martin had an incredibly sharp ability to analyze the essential subjects for the culture at that moment.

When I was teaching in the Yale sculpture department, it was a fairly heady place. Martin showed the students that you didn't have to sit around with your lips puckered and your brow furrowed in order to be a remarkable artist with a wide range. It was remarkable to them that he could tell off-color jokes and turn around and talk about Heidegger without missing a beat. I should add that for Martin the throttle was either open or shut. There was very little middle ground. He broke down all the barriers defining the conventional relationship between artist and student. In schools in the US today, especially at the graduate level, there is some conversation around him, but it's not like he's on the top-five list of every student in his or her studio. You have to keep in mind that there are probably only four art schools in the States with faculty who knew him.

Martin's career has often reminded me very much of that of Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol. There are periods with Warhol when everybody gets a stomachache over it. They don't want it anymore. Then that passes and suddenly the work looks better than it did before. Such artists are about excess. At some point the audience is going to say "enough" and step away from the table. But they always come back.

Ronald Jones is an artist who teaches at Konstfack in Stockholm.


Performance Anxiety

I was probably introduced to Martin at my first one-woman gallery show, which was at Galerie Christian Nagel in Cologne in 1990. He bought a copy of one of my museum-tour videos and a group of aluminum smiley and frowny faces I made to be installed next to other artworks. One of the interesting things about Kippenberger is how supportive he was of women artists, even though he performed, in a perfectly excessive way, the role of the macho German painter. Such support really challenged that '80s opposition between painting, particularly German painting, and the postmodernist, neo-Conceptualist feminist positions that I identified with. Unfortunately, at the time I was too informed by that opposition to get past the drunken macho persona.

When I began developing work about the position of the artist a couple of years ago, I began thinking seriously about Kippenberger's projects again. John Miller has written that Kippenberger played at pathos rather than embodied it. What I began to appreciate is that he performed his position as an artist and embodied it at the very same time. Kippenberger's drunken, impromptu dinner speech that I performed as Art Must Hang, 2001, for example, is full of what from an American perspective are misogynous, homophobic, and xenophobic elements. Now, it may be that misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia were attributes of a certain position in the German art world and society that Kippenberger consciously took up and performed. It may also be that he was, in fact, misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic on some level. Maybe he knew that he was and maybe some of the self-loathing in his work sprang from such recognition. But rather than simply disavow such attitudes, he performed them in extraordinary acts of self-ob jectification that were at once comic, violent, pathetic, and grotesque.

For me, this self-objectification is the most profound aspect of Kippenberger's work. I would never describe him as ironic. I think of the grotesque as what's beyond irony. It's what happens when you eliminate ironic distance by collapsing, for example, the performance and embodiment. Nor would I ever describe Kippenberger as cynical. There was obviously an enormous amount at stake for him, perhaps more than he could bear.

As artists, we represent and enjoy certain kinds of freedoms in our transgressions, our critiques, and our subversions. And yet, if we're not naive, we also know that even in those freedoms our roles are largely determined by the social institutions in which we exist. We can't escape those determinations no matter how conscious we are of them. That's why the most difficult thing to do as an artist is to perform the inseparability of freedom and determination: to perform that contradiction without distancing it in facile irony or collapsing it in cynicism, and without forgetting that you can't escape it through an act of will or reflection or a gesture of transgression. It's what I'm always trying to do but fear I'm failing. But I do think Kippenberger succeeded.

Andrea Fraser is a New York-based artist.


Sweep's Stakes

It was taken as a given that Kippenberger was a prototypical German bad boy and that he was the eye of the storm. Upon closer examination, it's much more systematic. I almost resist using that term because there are very rigid ideas about what constitutes the systematic these days. In a text I wrote on Kippenberger for the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles, I refer to Piero Manzoni's Base of the World. I think that Martin was engaged in a similar project. Everything was fodder for his work. This stance was not opportunistic; it was a profound aspect of his work that everything needed to be fodder, the idea that categorical distinctions were no longer useful within art practice. He could basically absorb anything into his work, especially in the last years when there was an acceleration of production. As far as I understand, it was a self-conscious strategy; he wanted to make sure that his work got into culture. It was not sufficient for a work that he made to be a "matter of record." The work spread out and took over vast territories with sweeping gestures. I know it would make some people cringe, but in some respects I think that it parallels Marcel Broodthaers's strategies as well. Since it was a different historical moment with Martin, it manifested itself in a different kind of historical residue. Nothing was off the menu. By and large, Kippenberger did not ascribe the value to his own work. He put it out into the world, allowing it to circulate. He left it to other people to determine which works are better than others.

Martin could be an infuriating figure. He was a fearless and ruthless mimic, both of forms of art and of people. He could locate a tendency and stroke it faster and more expeditiously than anyone I've ever met. But at the end, you'd have to step back and say that he saw so clearly. That is what I admired. When he would catch me in a contradiction, he would do it with such glee; not the kind of benign generosity that people endorse. It was a contract and a challenge and there was something at stake if you chose to participate in it. He would also thrive on other people's challenges.

In terms of the critical reception of his work in Los Angeles while he was alive, he was very much the German clown. A lot of times there was a refusal to deal with his work seriously. There was a tendency to take stereotype at face value, for instance, the way people called him a misogynist. I'm not going to defend his sexual politics, but it was always something he would massage; not to treat it as though it's a given state of truth, but as something under examination and constantly reviewed. He did that in a very public, confrontational way.

I think that around four or five years ago, what Martin had been doing was very much on the minds of young artists. Sometimes I would be surprised that his name would be invoked. These things are cyclical, anyway, and I don't think Kippenberger's as present right now. I don't know whether it has to do with how the current student body is populated or with the fact that Martin's work is not as present in the States as it had been. I mean, where's the retrospective? I would think that some institution in the US would feel the responsibility to review that material now.

Los Angeles-based artist Stephen Prina teaches at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Martin Kippenberger
Author:Williams, Gregory
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Previous Article:February 1973.
Next Article:Portfolio: Simryn Gill.

Related Articles
Swizzle shtick.
Andrea Fraser: Friedrich Petzel Gallery/P.H.A.G. (New York).
Ripening on the rhine: the Cologne art world of the '80s.
Rosemarie Trockel talks to Isabelle Graw. ('80s Then).
Michael Krebber: Greene Naftali Gallery. (Reviews: New York).
Performing the self: Alison M. Gingeras on Martin Kippenberger.
Martin Kippenberger: Luhring Augustine.
Tobias Rehberger: Galleria Gio Marconi.
Merlin Carpenter: Galerie Christian Nagel.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters