Georg Baselitz

The struggle between good and evil—vice against virtue, as in the 12th-century bronze doors of Novgorod’s St. Sofia Cathedral or a 13th-century window of Naumburg Cathedral—gives a Byzantine blessing to Georg Baselitz’s current work. This exhibition consisted of three “Kampfmotive” (Fight motifs, 1986)—each one a group of 12 charcoal-and-tempera drawings arranged in three horizontal rows—and 16 paintings executed in 1985 and 1986. As in all of Baselitz’s work since 1968, some of the images are inverted, but his interest in the head as an object of representation is, as it were, expanded. Other agents of pathos, in addition to the tormented heads, are, for example, the large and abundant tears that fall from the eyes like flames, while the figures slide ever deeper into the masses of color, as in Dolores, 1986.

Baselitz treats painting like expressionist sculpture; at the same time, however, he is also Pop in the way he puts together the “Kampfmotive.” In these drawings, he depicts parts of human figures (heads, torsos, legs, feet), parts of animal figures, bridges, and pine trees, sometimes repeating the images of heads, bridges, and trees. Because of the grid arrangement (and the difficulty of reading some of the images), even the different images begin to look like repeat images, as in some of Andy Warhol’s silkscreens.

This show provoked questions about the works’ subject, which is a typical effect of Baselitz’s painting. Is the subject man, or doubts about man? Must one accept a subject? Then, parallel to this question, must one accept a model? In any case, is the model the subject of the painting? As an expressionist, Baselitz should be against any preconceived system or model and its corresponding symmetries. But his use of repeated images implies just such a model, and the repetition results in the kind of symmetries that expressionism seeks to avoid.

Another chain of questions proceeds from Baselitz’s demonstrated interest in trying to be the champion of German feeling, of the German heart. German culture continues to express a longing for painting as a phenomenon of energy. But must painting serve to expend energy, or to acquire energy? Several times during this century pictorial expression in Germany has posed this problem. Is the order with which Emil Nolde arranged his colored masses, his interiorization of energy, the orchestration of his colors, truer to German feeling than the disharmony of Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who achieved a crazy energy through representational means and burned it up in dissonance? Baselitz seems to oscillate between the two positions: creating order through the stability of the repeated ideogram, or channeling energy through the use of color that almost always has the incendiary charge of the Expressionism of Die Brücke. Baselitz’s mystical tendency has its roots here; it is apparent in the works in this show, where it is expressed in the struggle between good and evil, developed without moralism, but also without any answer, like a recurrent inclination toward doubt.

Jole de Sanna

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore