German Painter, Sculptor, Photographer, Installation Artist
Dortmund, West Germany
Summary of Martin Kippenberger
Though unpopular with the German art establishment, Martin Kippenberger was regarded by many of his contemporaries to be the most vigorous and audacious of the post-post-war generation of German artists. During his short life, the combustible, irreverent and prolific artist worked across many mediums including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, performance art, installation art, and music experimentation. Though he claimed he "didn't have a style," Kippenberger is generally recognized for his penchant for appropriation, his use of found and/or sundry objects, and his insistence that art should connect in some way with the everyday world. His art is often said to recall the impudent, and at times aggressive, spirit of early Dadaism, and at times the ironic playfulness of Pop Art; or what became known from the eighties as Neo-Pop Art.
- The post-war generation of German artists, proudly represented on the international stage by the likes of Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys, were using art to help process their country's catastrophic recent history. Kippenberger thought that, some thirty years forward, German art needed to become more 'alive'. For him, no subject was too sacred, nor too trivial, and his work drew on any point of reference - cultural, historical, personal - to deliver ironic statements on the art world and its history. He can then be grouped with the provocative Neo-Pop Art movement - which brings together the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Katharina Fritsch, Cady Noland, Keith Haring - that used consumer culture and everyday readymades as a way to critique Western culture and its values.
- Kippenberger had not been swayed by the latest maxim that "painting was dead" and, though he worked across most mediums, he was happy to explore the future possibilities for painting by producing crude and impudent canvases that became known as his Bad Paintings. Bad Painting is associated with artistic movement beginning in the late 1970s and gained recognition as a movement following the 1978 "Bad Painting" exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art of New York. The exhibition's curator, the art critic Marcia Tucker, had been interested in bringing together a provocative, spontaneous art that challenged the idea of artistic "good taste" through its crude aesthetic and technical application (Kippenberger did not feature in the exhibition).
- Kippenberger was insistent that art should be part of the everyday world and he railed against institutionalized highbrow art such as Neo-Expressionism. For Kippenberger, art was about ideas and concepts over skilful execution and he drew inspiration, not so much from political and social history, but more from inconsequential cultural events and objects. His aim was to poke fun at pompous artistic orthodoxies (hence the label Bad Paintings).
- Kippenberger was a nomadic individual who travelled to locations including Florence, Madrid, Vienna, Los Angeles and Syros. His restlessness tallied with the image of an errant son - an iconoclast - whose "attitude" brought added interest to his art. He was alert to the importance of publicity (and self-publicity) and he embraced his notoriety to full effect. Kippenberger knew that if he was to "seize the moment", then the personality of the artist - or the artist's legend - must do the job of announcing his art to the biggest public. His self-styled "rebellious swagger" had an especially profound impact on the Young British Artists (YBAs) group who followed his example in exploiting their own celebrity - or rather their infamy - to inform on readings of their art works.
Progression of Art
Uno di voi, un tedesco en Firenze (One of you, a German in Florence)
Kippenberger painted Uno di voi at the very start of his career while living in Florence. It documents his experiences as a foreigner lost in the streets of an unknown city. Uno di voi features a montage of black and white paintings depicting a range of seemingly disconnected subjects - including portraits of a local milkman, a wanted criminal, a stuffed pig, a copy of a Botticelli painting from the Uffizi and a dead pigeon - drawn from souvenir postcards and his own street photography. Kippenberger had originally intended to produce enough paintings to make a stack at a height of the artist himself, but this goal proved impracticable.
Each image is painted to the same-size and detail, and though Kippenberger's subject matter is more eclectic and more autobiographical, it still invites comparisons with the work of Gerhard Richter, and especially his 48 Portraits of Important Men (1972). Kippenberger had indeed acknowledged the influence of Richter, but he was part of a new generation of post-modern artists who wanted to move away from what was an overtly political Post-war German art. Taking their lead rather from the Swiss Dadaists and the Pop artists, he wanted to invest art with a new feel for humor and irony, something he believed was lacking in the earnest work of the German Neo-Expressionists. Kippenberger achieves this here by allowing everyday street scenes to take their 'rightful' place along-side canonical works of art. The artist favored a layered, ahistorical approach to producing art and his predilection for the absurd, quite evident in Uno di voi's incredulous juxtapositions, would characterize his whole career.
Oil on canvas
Untitled from the series Lieber maler male mir (Dear painter, paint for me)
Two men walk arm in arm away from us towards a Düsseldorf bar on a busy day. The taller of the two is Kippenberger, he is gripping a friend's arm for support. Despite their relatively formal attire, both men have a dishevelled look about them, suggestive of a certain fragility. One would be forgiven for thinking that the friends were headed to the bar (in daytime) in order to drown their sorrows. The painting is one of an early career series of twelve for which Kippenberger commissioned a well-known film poster painter - known only as "Mr. Werner" - to paint the image. The images were copied meticulously from Kippenberger's own photographs of ordinary street scenes and he hired a 'technical' painter to render the work for ideological reasons. Kippenberger was influenced by Andy Warhol's factory-like approach to making art whereby employees would assist heavily in art production. He supported the principle that the idea driving the artwork - the concept - was more important than the skill in the artistic execution: "I'm rather like a travelling salesman" he said "I deal in ideas. I am far more to people than someone who paints pictures." Dear Painter, Paint Me, was then a deliberate affront to the dominant trend of German Neo-Expressionism which promoted a style of earnest socio-political enquiry over such frivolous conceptual play.
Oil on canvas
Dialogue with the Youth of Today
In this somewhat graphic self-portrait, Kippenberger is shown beaten, bruised and bandaged. His eyes, nose and upper lip are swollen and covered in yellow bruises. The portrait was made while Kippenberger was manager at the notorious Berlin punk club S.O.36. He had been attacked one night by a gang led by a punk known as "Ratten-Jenny" (earning that prefix on account of the rat she always carried on her shoulder). The gang had felt aggrieved when Kippenberger raised the club's beer prices and had taken a special dislike to Kippenberger's formal, preppy way of dressing. Gallerist Bruno Brunnet added that his attackers were probably more "mad at Martin for having bought his way into SO36" (their club).
On arrival at hospital, Kippenberger called up a number of his friends with the aim of documenting his ordeal in photographs. It would be Jutta Henglein who provided him with source material for what would become a trilogy of paintings. Following the attack, Kippenberger was left with a crooked nose and several facial scars. But he seized on the opportunity to create a strong autobiographical statement in a trilogy of photoreal paintings called Berlin by Night (one of which was Dialogue with the Youth Today). As with many of his self-portraits, Kippenberger presents himself as a broken down, fragile figure. Indeed, beneath the witty, ironic title there is a latent sense of personal failure in this painting; an undercurrent which ran through much of his work. Kippenberger was of course unafraid to address the difficult subjects and situations he encountered in his life. It was an attitude that would enamour him to so many of his contemporaries.
Oil on canvas
Capri by Night
Taking his lead from Pop Art, Kippenberger was interested in the way ordinary objects, once appropriated, could be treated as, or transformed into, works of art. However, Capri by Night fits within the realms of what became known as Neo-Pop Art. Here a Ford Capri car, a "readymade", is parked inside a gallery. It is covered, moreover, in a mixture of orange and brown paint mixed together with oat flakes. The unusual color and texture, not to mention its setting inside a gallery, invites the spectator to consider the Capri as something more - or something other - than a car. As a piece of Pop Art the art work in question need be no more than an emblem of nihilism and consumer culture; or just a joke delivered at the expense of the modern art world. But there is more for the spectator to contemplate here and it was this willingness to challenge Western culture and its values that gives the work added "bite". Kippenberger produced Capri by Night in collaboration with his friend Albert Oehlen in the early 1980s when the two were leading figures on the Cologne art scene. It was in fact one of a series of artworks he made featuring the car. Kippenberger saw the Capri, which was such a popular car in Germany and the rest of Europe in the 1970s and 80s, as symbolic of modern, or every-day, life. And despite its Italian sounding name (named after the Italian island), the car was originally made in America, a state of affairs that Kippenberger found rather ironic.
Kippenberger and Oehlen often used their art to parody the work of other artists. This was done not out of spite but in the name of pastiche and 'quotation', both key signifiers of the playful, and often controversial, Neo-Pop tendency. By covering the Capri - such a gleaming symbol of consumer culture - in the paint and oat flakes mixture Kippenberger and Oehlen managed to undermine the socio-political intentions of two of the most important Post-war German artists: Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer. Beuys had mixed his own shade of brown paint, which he named "braunkreuz" (brown cross), as a means of signifying rust, blood and dirt, while the rough, oatmeal texture referenced Kiefer's tactile symbolic paintings that mixed straw and burlap together with oils. In the case of Capri by Night, Kippenberger and Oehlen were able then to deliver their stinging rebuke of the deadly solemn tone of post-war German art.
Ford Capri Car, paint, oat flakes
In this self-portrait we see a half-naked Kippenberger slumped in an enormous pair of white underpants, his face obscured by a blue balloon. The artist is once more depicted in unflattering details: a swollen beer belly, rolls of fat, a thick neck and drooping shoulders suggesting a mood of dejected resignation. This painting is one of a cycle of seven self-portraits produced by Kippenberger between the late 1980s and early 1990s. They are often referred to colloquially as the Picasso Paintings or the Underwear Paintings; the huge white underpants he wears match those worn by an elderly Picasso in a series of famous photographic portraits. While the artist made self-portraits throughout his career (Dialogue with the Youth of Today for instance) these were amongst the most honest and unflattering. Here Kippenberger, aged just 35, captures his prematurely aged body which has started to show the effects of his excessive lifestyle; the floating balloon that covers his face might suggest a feeling of shame and self-loathing. Like a number of artists before him, including Picasso, Warhol and Beuys, Kippenberger saw his persona as an integral part of his art. But where his predecessors were invested in creating and sustaining their own mythologies, Kippenberger - who was apt to remind his public that "every artist is a human being" - maintained a persona that was deeply introspective and self-critical. It was unusual for a male artist to dismantle his aura in this way. But he has influenced many artists since, particularly women such as Jenny Saville and Maria Lassnig who are interested in exploring honest ways of representing the female figure in art.
Oil on canvas
This somewhat delicate pencil drawing depicts a man in a workman's vest hammering two screws into his nose. Under the man's raised right hand a caption reads "do it yourself", perhaps indicating the self-destructive nature of a nomadic creative life. In the top right is a logo that reads Parkhotel, Liepzigerhof Restaurant, Innsbruck, thus confirming that the drawing was made on hotel paper (in Austria). Having spent many weeks lodging in hotels around the world, Kippenberger's drawing is one of hundreds made throughout his career on collected samples of hotel paper. In this series Kippenberger was influenced by Joseph Beuys's drawing series To Mikis Theodorakis (1982), also made on hotel paper. Like Beuys, Kippenberger made art on a range of surfaces, and hotel paper was a legitimate found source on which to impress new ideas. Though Kippenberger had parodied Beuys in the past (in Capri at Night for example) the artists shared an interest in the processes of recycling and renewal. The drawings are often sketchy and contain elements of writing, making them closer to diary entries than autonomous artworks. Together image and text reveal Kippenberger's fleeting thoughts and ideas, providing the purest record, perhaps, of where his life and art become most closely abutted.
Drawing on paper
The Happy End of Franz Kafka's Amerika
This artwork is a complex installation where objects including tables, chairs and freestanding sculptures have been placed on a green ground, suggestive of grass. Chairs have been arranged to face one another, as if several job interviews are about to take place. As Kippenberger's most ambitiously scaled installation, the work was made towards the end of his career.
Kippenberger took as a starting point Franz Kafka's unfinished novel Amerika (written between 1911 and 1914 and published posthumously in 1927). The books protagonist, Karl, is sent to the Amerika - the "promised land" of opportunity - in search of redemption following a sexual transgression. Karl experiences a series of bizarre adventures and comical encounters in Kafka's fantastical land (the author never visited America). Though Karl's likely fate is contested by Kafka scholars, Kippenberger installation offered an upbeat ending: "a circus in town, looking to employ reliable hands, helpers, doers, self-confident handlers and the like. Outside the circus tent there would be tables and chairs set up for job interviews." With the artwork he hoped to create the feeling of a friendly, communal space filled with employment opportunities but, as with many of Kippenberger's artworks, the installation is layered with references to work by other artists. Many of the furniture pieces are classics by designers including Arne Jacobsen and Charles Eames, while the freestanding elements are sculptures by Kippenberger and a number of his artist friends. These have been interspersed with thrift store finds, thereby levelling the field between artworks and commercially produced objects and thus continuing Kippenberger's dedicated art/life project.
As a teenager Kippenberger spent time living in several different creative communes and this collaborative spirit stayed with him as his career developed. This artwork celebrates one of the central tenets in Kippenberger's worldview - an emphasis on community, conversation and the potency of working collectively.
Biography of Martin Kippenberger
The third child of five (a brother to four sisters), Martin Kippenberger was born, in 1953, in Dortmund, Germany to upper-middle-class parents. His father, Gerd, ran a colliery while his mother, Helena, worked in the field of dermatology. Gerd, a true force for parental good by all accounts, was both a gregarious socialite and a passionate art collector. It became apparent from an early age that Kippenberger would become heir to his father's passion, his elder sister Susanne recalling for instance how almost "as soon as he could hold a pencil, he drew and painted, glued and stapled." Soon he was copying paintings from his father's collection by the likes of Picasso, Klee, Chagall and Kokoschka and all the while receiving enthusiastic praise from his father for his "beautiful drawings".
In 1956 the family had moved to Essen where Kippenberger attended the Frillendorf Protestant State Primary School. There he assumed the mantle of the class clown (his teacher, Frau Linden, described him rather unkindly as a "Harlequin") before he moved to the Tetenshof boarding school in Hinterzarten in 1962. He would thrive at Tetenshof under the mentorship of one Hans Groh who encouraged Kippenberger's artistic inclinations. Indeed, Dr. Grob was so taken with his student's potential that he felt moved to write a letter to the boy's parents: "sometimes [Martin] seems to me too mature in his pictures [...] it seems to me his path in life is already decided" he predicted. Kippenberger graduated from Tetenshof in 1965 and moved to Honneroth, a boarding school near Altenkirchen in the Westerwald. Already something of a free-spirit, Kippenberger did not take at all to the strict regime at Altenkirchen, referring to it in fact as a "horror school". He later moved to a private high school in Essen, but, after failing his final exams three times, he left school without graduating.
While at high school Kippenberger had found a means of personal expression when he attended classes at Aenne Blomecke's dance school ("not so much shaking your behind back and forth please" was Blomecke's common, gentle rebuke). As he moved into late adolescence Kippenberger would turn heads at Essen's Youth Cultural Centre thorough a unique personal style that combined long hennaed hair, bright orange overalls and varnished red toenails. The local Bohmer shoe store rejected his job application as a window dresser, but he managed to secure paid employment as a decorator at the Boecker clothes store in 1970. However, Kippenberger soon found himself hospitalized following an accidental drug overdose. By way of recovery, he travelled aimlessly around Norway and Sweden before returning to Essen in 1971. Shortly after his homecoming, Kippenberger held his first exhibition (with two friends, Birgit and Willi) at the Podium, Essen's local jazz bar. The exhibition received a positive review in the local paper and for Helena, his mother (and by now divorced from Gerd), this could be the point at which her beloved son might have finally "pulled himself together." In spite of his modest success, however, Helena was still so worried about her son's drug problems that she arranged for him to attend a drugs rehabilitation clinic in Hamburg. On being discharged, Kippenberger moved between living communes where he made the acquaintance of fellow artists Ina Barfuss, Joachim Kruger and Thomas Wachweger.
Early Training and Work
In 1972, Kippenberger secured a place at the Hamburg Art Academy. He studied under multi-media artist Sigmar Polke who had encouraged his students to turn their lives into art by "throwing one's physical, bodily existence onto the scales" even if it that came "at the price of destroying ourselves." Kippenberger's life had started to turn around - he began to build an impressive portfolio (including a photographic series of "drunk people" and finely detailed drawn portraits of friends and family) and he was enjoying his first serious relationship with girlfriend, Inka Hocke - when, in 1976, his mother was killed in a freak car accident. Helena's death was a devastating shock for the artist who, also having received a substantial inheritance, embarked on a journey of personal re-evaluation. Disenchanted with his art education, Kippenberger left the Hamburg Academy, and travelled to Florence with the goal of becoming an actor. When this plan failed to come to fruition, he turned once more to art, commencing work on his first major series of paintings, Uno Di Voi, un Tedesco in Firenze (One of You, a German in Florence), a somewhat sardonic examination of his experiences of Florence as a tourist. The collection of 'postcard' images, which recalled the serial style of Kippenberger's compatriot, Gerhard Richter, were included in Kippenberger's first solo exhibition in Germany in 1977.
By 1978 Kippenberger had relocated to Berlin, where he bought a share in the S.O.36 hall, a renowned Dada-esque/punk performance and film venue. Performers at S.O.36 included David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Grugas, a punk band of which Kippenberger was a band member (with Christine Hahn and Eric Mitchell). In the same year he founded Buro Kippenberger with his friend and 'business director' (and later his agent and dealer) Gisela Capitain. Buro Kippenberger was an arts workshop conceived of in the mould of Andy Warhol's factory and it was here that he staged the group exhibition Misery. The exhibition featuring work by Buttner, Achim Duchow, Walter Dahn and George Herold and attracted the interest of the gallerist Max Hetler who became Kipppenberger's patron.
In 1980, having been being badly beaten by a gang outside S.O.36, he moved to Paris where he tried his hand as a writer. Kippenberger managed to publish the basis for his catalogue Through Puberty to Success (in 1981) but he did not stay in Paris for long, preferring to settle this time in Cologne. It was a fruitful period for Kippenberger and he worked on a number of collaborative sculptures, including Capri by Night, Orgone Box by Night and Fiaker Race, with Oehlen. The heavy-drinking Kippenberger (or "Kippi", as his friends knew him) had gained a reputation as the enfant terrible of German art and his confrontational and uncompromising personality would often cause offence. In 1986, for instance, Kippenberger, riding high the success of his first large scale museum exhibition, Rent Electricity Gas, at the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt, bought a gas station in Brazil and named it the Martin Bormann Gas Station after the notorious Nazi official who had allegedly escaped to South America. The stunt backfired, however, leaving the artist facing accusations of being a Nazi sympathiser. Meanwhile, Kippenberger's friendship with Oehlen continued to thrive into the late 1980s, with the two spending time together in Seville and Madrid. Oehlen began to explore abstraction in his paintings while Kippenberger worked on his well-known cycle of self-portraits wearing just his underwear with reference to the famous semi-nude photographs of an ageing Picasso.
1989 marked a significant turning point in Kippenberger's life. His partner Gabi Hirsch gave birth to their daughter Helena (named after his mother) and his father passed: "Just as she was born, he died. I saw him lying in bed like a baby. The rhythm [of life], it makes you think" he said later. Kippenberger was a doting parent, but after two years of fatherhood, he found the day-to-day structures of family life stifling and duly sought a means of escape. Additionally, the start of the Nineties was witness to a number of published articles criticizing Kippenberger for his scabrous lifestyle. By the end of 1991, and worn down by the public criticism, Kippenberger and his family moved to Los Angeles. However, and despite admiration and endorsements from many artists (including Mike Kelly, John Caldwell and Cady Noland), Kippenberger struggled to find success with commercial galleries in America and after only a year he had returned to Germany.
He moved to Frankfurt (via Cologne) where he worked as a guest professor at the Stadelschule. Teaching work would sustain him into the early 1990s, working at the Comprehensive University of Kassel (where he taught the so-called Happy Kippenberger class) and as a guest lecturer at Yale University. Between 1993-1995 he established the Kippenberger Art Society in Kassel where he was able to pursue his interest in curatorship. Meanwhile, Kippenberger had garnered positive notices following exhibitions at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 1993 and the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam in 1994. Soon thereafter he founded the experimental and irreverent anti-monument project, the Museum of Modern Art Syros (MOMAS), in an abandoned relic on the Greek island (Syros). Kippenberger married the Austrian photographer Elfie Semotan in 1996. That year also saw the release of a compilation of his music projects, Greatest Hits: 17 Years of Martin Kippenberger's Music. In what was to be the last year of his life, Kippenberger also received the Käthe Kollwitz Prize from the Academy of Arts, Berlin and he was the subject of two major exhibitions: Respektive 1997-1976, at the Musee d'art modern et contemporain (MAMCO) in Geneva, and The Eggman and his Outriggers at the Stadtisches Museum Abteiberg, Monchengladbach. Kippenberger died of liver cancer on the 7th March 1997 at the University of Vienna Hospital aged just 43, and just weeks before he was to feature in the Documenta X exhibition in Kassel, Germany.
The Legacy of Martin Kippenberger
Kippenberger helped usher in the new age of German art - a kind of post-Post-Expressionism - by advocating an art that was more autobiographical than political. The so-called 'bad-boy' of German art gained notoriety for provoking and offending the tastes of the incumbent art establishment, though his defiant personality earned him respect amongst his peers (an "artist's artist" in the words of his sister, Susanne). Kippenberger regularly made headlines for his debauched lifestyle though, like many of those who followed, he rather turned his public image to his advantage. His sometimes blatant shock tactics were to influence the young British artist (YBA) generation (most of whom were born in the mid-1960s). Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Gavin Turk have all acknowledged Kippenberger's influence, not least, in the way they publicized elements of their own practice through their celebrity. He is admired in America too where his followers include Jeff Koons, Julian Schnabel, Stephen Prina, John Baldessari, Mike Kelley and Christopher Wool. His acceptance of flawed, or "Bad", art, and with that his interest in repetition and kitsch, was a source of especial fascination for the Neo-Pop artist Koons. In 1989 the pair worked together in fact on front and back covers of the contemporary arts magazine, Parkett. The American, who later purchased one of Kippenberger's paintings for his private collection, stated that "Some people have a lot of anxiety, and that anxiety confines them. Martin didn't have this anxiety. When I think of Martin's art, I think about life." No doubt Kippenberger would have revelled in the kind words of one of his most esteemed peers.