PRINT February 2003

Andrea Fraser

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-objectification 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.