PRINT February 2003

Stephen Prina

It was taken as a given that Kippenberger was a prototypical German bad boy and that he was the eye of the storm. Upon closer examination, it’s much more systematic. I almost resist using that term because there are very rigid ideas about what constitutes the systematic these days. In a text I wrote on Kippenberger for the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles, I refer to Piero Manzoni’s Base of the World. I think that Martin was engaged in a similar project. Everything was fodder for his work. This stance was not opportunistic; it was a profound aspect of his work that everything needed to be fodder, the idea that categorical distinctions were no longer useful within art practice. He could basically absorb anything into his work, especially in the last years when there was an acceleration of production. As far as I understand, it was a self-conscious strategy; he wanted to make sure that his work got into culture. It was not sufficient for a work that he made to be a “matter of record.” The work spread out and took over vast territories with sweeping gestures. I know it would make some people cringe, but in some respects I think that it parallels Marcel Broodthaers’s strategies as well. Since it was a different historical moment with Martin, it manifested itself in a different kind of historical residue. Nothing was off the menu. By and large, Kippenberger did not ascribe the value to his own work. He put it out into the world, allowing it to circulate. He left it to other people to determine which works are better than others.

Martin could be an infuriating figure. He was a fearless and ruthless mimic, both of forms of art and of people. He could locate a tendency and stroke it faster and more expeditiously than anyone I’ve ever met. But at the end, you’d have to step back and say that he saw so clearly. That is what I admired. When he would catch me in a contradiction, he would do it with such glee; not the kind of benign generosity that people endorse. It was a contract and a challenge and there was something at stake if you chose to participate in it. He would also thrive on other people’s challenges.

In terms of the critical reception of his work in Los Angeles while he was alive, he was very much the German clown. A lot of times there was a refusal to deal with his work seriously. There was a tendency to take stereotype at face value, for instance, the way people called him a misogynist. I’m not going to defend his sexual politics, but it was always something he would massage; not to treat it as though it’s a given state of truth, but as something under examination and constantly reviewed. He did that in a very public, confrontational way.

I think that around four or five years ago, what Martin had been doing was very much on the minds of young artists. Sometimes I would be surprised that his name would be invoked. These things are cyclical, anyway, and I don’t think Kippenberger’s as present right now. I don’t know whether it has to do with how the current student body is populated or with the fact that Martin’s work is not as present in the States as it had been. I mean, where’s the retrospective? I would think that some institution in the US would feel the responsibility to review that material now.

Los Angeles–based artist Stephen Prina teaches at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.