PRINT February 2009


By the time he died, of cancer, in 1997 at age forty-four, MARTIN KIPPENBERGER had generated what was already recognized to be one of the most significant, and prescient, bodies of work from the postwar era—one whose diversity was matched only by its elusiveness and complicity in its own misprision, since the artist’s wide-ranging engagements with radically contrasting approaches to painting, sculpture, photography, and installation all but demanded to be seen through the prism of his own larger-than-life persona and past history as a punk-era impresario. Kippenberger’s influence among artists internationally has grown steadily in the years since his death, and yet his first US retrospective took place only last fall, organized by Ann Goldstein at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. We asked art historian and critic GEORGE BAKER to take stock of “Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective”—which travels to the Museum of Modern Art in New York next month—and to consider the still-evolving implications of the artist’s practice.

THERE ARE NIGHTS IN LOS ANGELES when, if your friends are artists, you wind up at Capri—the somewhat forlorn, outdated (very ’80s) restaurant that Martin Kippenberger invested in soon after he moved to the city for a brief time in 1989. Inevitably, someone who knew Kippenberger, or someone who knew someone who knew Kippenberger, will tell you that the artist wanted to back the restaurant so that Los Angeles could have decent spaghetti Bolognese. And so, knowing that everyone tells such stories about Kippenberger, you contemplate ordering that. But since this is a story about translation and displacement—like the artist’s obsession with the Ford Capri, an American car named after the most touristed of Italian islands; or the Technicolor gondola sculpture that he once installed in Los Angeles in skeletal form atop a BMW—you would be wise to decide against the dish. (Imagine Italian pasta

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