Martin Kippenberger, The Happy End of Franz Kafka's “Amerika,”, 1994, mixed media. Installation view, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

Los Angeles

“Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective”

MOCA Geffen Contemporary
152 North Central Avenue
September 21–January 5

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
March 1–May 11

Curated by Ann Goldstein

Few postwar artists have proved as fiercely contested yet captivatingly elusive as the German Martin Kippenberger (1953–1997). The myth that has grown around his life and art operates at the intersection between the artist’s provocative persona, nomadic restlessness, and addictive habits, on the one hand, and, on the other, a seemingly bottomless oeuvre that encompasses not only “works” in every conceivable medium but also his activities as a curator, collector, organizer, and scenester. In recent years this myth has threatened to eclipse—or become—the art itself, as a younger generation of critics and artists has fixated on Kippenberger’s cultic presence and the cliques over which he presided. Yet like the long-held views of Kippenberger’s work as either merely tongue-in-cheek or accessible to only a chosen few, this mythic dimension has come to hinder a more profound understanding of the remarkable corpus he left behind.

Kippenberger’s first retrospective in the United States provides a much-needed opportunity for a truly art-historical assessment. What in his work goes beyond mere irony, and what aesthetic or conceptual substance remains at a temporal, cultural, and personal distance from its fervent emergence? If the time is ripe more generally to historicize German art beyond the knee-jerk concerns of national identity prevalent into the 1990s, and beyond its free-floating proliferation throughout the current global art world, then Kippenberger’s oeuvre provides a perfect case study: Not only does it bridge these periods but it falls into place in nuanced, unexpected contexts.

Perhaps the artist’s preoccupations with the idea of home (as in his installations of pseudo- and actual furniture and in his drawings on hotel stationery) and with insider jokes and fake subcultural slogans (strategies that frequently meet, as in the 1985 painting J.A.F., JEANS AGAINST FASHISM, a pun on the RAF [Red Army Faction]) reflect on the unusually cozy structure of the postwar German art world around a cluster of tight-knit metropolitan scenes (such as those in West Berlin, where Kippenberger emerged at a moment when artists and squatters jointly defined the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, and in Cologne, where Kippenberger cultivated a devoted following). Perhaps his peculiar takes on social matters (as in the 1989 sculptural series “Sozialkistentransporter” [Social Boxes Transporter] and in the artist’s landmark 1986 exhibition “Miete, Strom, Gas” [Rent, Electricity, Gas]) must be seen against the backdrop of political disillusionment in the wake of ’68, the terrorist attacks of the RAF, and the end of postwar economic growth with its attendant crisis of the social welfare state. And perhaps Kippenberger’s awkward painting styles result from a conjunction of West German Pop and East German Socialist Realism that makes sense during the waning years of the cold war and the loosening of the cultural divide imposed by the iron curtain.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, will offer a sprawling assortment of the artist’s exhibition posters and announcement cards, selected editions, multiples, and books, as well as key examples of drawings, paintings, and sculptures from 1977 to 1997. The accompanying catalogue promises a balance of fresh and familiar, outsider and insider voices: exhibition curator Ann Goldstein, longtime champion of the artist Diedrich Diederichsen, art historian Pamela Lee, moma curator Ann Temkin, and, in a 1991 interview with artist Jutta Koether, the irrepressible Kippenberger himself.