Martin Kippenberger

Galerie Max Hetzler

Cynicism is one of the modes through which art can reflect reality, and it is by using this mode that Martin Kippenberger has made a name for himself. The works he presented to the public beginning in the early ’80s were all series of small paintings whose themes for the most part were taken from our media-filled everyday world. The neutrality of the subject matter corresponded to the neutrality of artistic realization, with its seemingly effortless appropriation of 20th-century painting styles. Compared with the early paintings of Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, which are similarly trivial in choice of subject matter, Kippenberger’s early works are all much shriller. They plunge the viewer into a torrent of painterly and thematic dissonances. But dissonance is the name of the game in the media world. Measured against the art of the ’60s, Kippenberger’s work has lowered even further the level of what is considered art-worthy material. He intensified the cynicism inherent in the media’s mix of war, kitsch, sex, death, and banality without seriously attacking the underlying essence of what the images are about. What we were primarily left with was the iconoclastic effect of his subject matter and the disavowal of the various painting styles.

The literary readability of these early works has given way to the near indecipherability of the sculptures in this exhibition/installation, entitled “Peter: die russische Stellung” (Peter: the Russian arrangement, 1987). These new works, all from 1987, resemble furniture and industrial equipment, and consist of various combinations of building materials (wood, metal, Masonite, etc.) and the artist’s version of found objects. They are crowded together and presented in apparently arbitrary, “artless” arrangements in the gallery space, like a warehouse full of different manufactured goods and machines. The effect is somewhat similar to Oldenburg’s legendary “Store,” 1961; but from today’s perspective and in comparison with Kippenberger’s work, Oldenburg’s method of approximating real objects seems rather artificial. The particular quality of Kippenberger’s “sculptures” lies in their similarity to everyday objects. Their materiality is never subordinated to any attempt at expressivity; indeed, Kippenberger deliberately blurs the boundaries between “sculpture” and “object”—which is why these “sculptures” resist formal analysis. The heterogeneity of the works determines the heterogeneity of possible, meaningful contextualizations.

The titles do of course give us some clues, but their connection with the works is just as loose as are the connections among the works; and Kippenberger’s rejection of a consistent artistic signature (analogous to his refusal of a consistent style of painting) leads him to play with the signatures of other artists in many of the pieces. A refrigerator covered with fabric—Obertonreihe (Harmonic series)—recalls Beuys’ felt-covered piano, 1966; and inside a roughly constructed wooden crate we find an invitation signed “Donald Judd.” Other works make references to Georg Herold, Reinhard Mucha, Arman, Scott Burton, and other artists. A painting actually done by Richter, Graues Bild (Gray painting, 1972), is built into a coffee table. Kippenberger’s handling of artistic signature affects the meaning of the whole group of “sculptures.” In the same spirit as his mimicking of objects, it points not to the work of art itself but to the social uses of works of art.

Martin Hentschel

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.