PRINT February 2003

Jan Avgikos

From about the late ’80s to the mid-’90s I went back and 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 “Peter” 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 postmodern 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.