PRINT February 2003

Christopher Wool

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 Königswasser 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.