Martin Kippenberger

Galerie Max Hetzler

Martin Kippenberger’s exhibition Vit 89 consisted of various curious items—perhaps sculptures, objects, or simply materials in space, or perhaps not. In any case, the items cohered into an ensemble that was installed over two floors, and they produced an image of art that, by means of surprise effects and the titillation of an intellectual amusement park, offered humorous insights that flew directly into the face of “upright” opinions and taboos.

The arrangement of the pieces served as a narrative foundation. The visitor entered, passing through two emblematic welcoming saplings (Emfang der Lord Jim Loge [Reception of the Lord Jim Loge, all works, 1989]). The saplings flaunt the motto, “Keiner hilft keinem” (No one helps no one). The two small female breasts included on the emblem look funny. Similarly, with its unambiguous depiction of testicles, Ball-Heater für Spitzensekretärinnen (Ball heater for top secretaries), illuminated by red light from below, guaranteed a balance of sexes and generated a cheery mood. Obelisk, ukrainisch (Obelisk, Ukrainian) in its three successively smaller, interlocking versions, dealt with the phenomenon of the possibility and impossibility of peering through something. The adhesive tape, designed by the artist, displayed a printed statement in German, English, and Spanish: “I hold myself closed.” These words sum up the artist’s condition, the mediocrity and truth of form. Pasta, which evokes the German slang word Zaster, meaning “money,” i.e., “bread, dough,” marked the crates, which are the cargo of a gondola carcass entitled Sozialtransporter (Social welfare transporter). Something or someone is clearly being lulled; we might believe that the theme is poverty, for the legend “Monkey business” adds a further, telltale stamp to this work. In the comer stood a humorously bold post-Modern Memphis version of a Japanese garden, Japanische Gartengestaltung für innen (Japanese garden decoration for the interior): crosswise cabinets with doors made of industrial glass and a loose trail of “stones” made of expanded plastics undermined the religious, ceremonial character of the garden with mordant irony. The artist grazes the embarrassment limit of present-day taste—a taste that brings just about anything into the home. But one-upmanship prevailed in the form of a vertical stand covered with pieces of dirty rubber flooring entitled Noppen-Peter, verkehrtrum, mischi-maschi (Burl Peter, inside out, mishi-mashi). Safer sculpture? Hardly. As one of the pieces says: “Martin, stand in the comer and be ashamed.”

On the way up to the second floor of the gallery the viewer found a two-colored mural by Günther Förg. Kippenberger comments on its upper, ocher part with a (still) clean, likewise ocher “Burl Peter.” And then, raise the curtain! You walked through a parted curtain, the kind normally used in airplanes, and you entered Business Class: new surprises, most of them delightfully entertaining, occasionally daring, sometimes just plain funny. The orchestral fullness is what does it—not so much the half-Jewish candelabra on the German official sideboard, and even less the couple who have not yet learned about racism. The titillation aroused by Kippenberger’s amusement park subsides only very gradually.

Kippenberger seems to dote on German and international uprightness. His is an art of camouflage and exposure, an esthetic halfway between sediment and humbug that transmits its message in a seemingly shallow conversational tone. You look at a work, and at first our thoughts are trivial, until you’re compelled to realize Kippenberger is trying to render a perhaps incredible, perhaps noteworthy insight as directly as possible: love it or shove it!

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.