PRINT February 2003

Ronald Jones

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.