West Germany

Markus Lüpertz

Municipal Kunsthalle; Galerie Michael Werner

In Cologne at the end of last year there were two exhibitions of works by the German painter Markus Lüpertz: a large retrospective in the Municipal Kunsthalle and a show of his drawings at Galerie Michael Werner. Lüpertz belongs to the so-called “New German Expressionists.” The other artists of the group are Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer—who, along with Lüpertz, will represent West Germany at this year’s Biennale of Venice—Jorg Immendorff and the East German A.R. Penck. Lüpertz is perhaps the only one of them, however, who actually deserves the label “Expressionist.” His entire approach to painting is nowadays rather exceptional: he considers himself a “servant of the God Painting.”

His paintings are pompous. Since the start of his career he has worked on only one old problem: the struggle between the object defining form, and pure, abstract form. He has attacked this conflict most of the time in a mocking, often provoking way; he sometimes uses subjects that are still polluted by the German past: Nazi caps, steel helmets, cannons. He pretends that these symbols are as neutral as the others he employs: snails, tree trunks, asparagus, or coats. They do all have one thing in common: their forms are always simple and Lüpertz blows them up to an enormous size.

Markus Lüpertz has a deep interest in the history of painting: “I can only paint in relationship to all the painting that already exists, painting is always about birth and heirs.” In fact, his latest works manifest the influence of another German painter, Werner Gilles. This open adoption of an existing language is not always appreciated by his audience, but I think he adds more than he takes, mainly because the direction of his vision is clearly apparent in the work. We can see a logical development from the big solid forms to a greater refinement within this large scale. His language is the language of conflict, and provocation directed against the spectator, but it is also the vehicle for attempting to work within the tension of a formal conflict which we thought had been solved so many times before.

Micky Piller