Georg Baselitz

What is painting after? Memory and organization. To dissolve, to constitute itself. To do something vicariously for others or for itself? To capture a special kind of reminiscence—personal history, time spent with painting, the resulting disillusionment because painting as the trace of genius is all that remains.

Georg Baselitz’s new work is both monumental and light at the same time. It fills an entire room, but is neither massive nor monolithic. Instead, it is decentralized in a series of 20 individual components that form a continuous strip of pictures. In the catalogue, Siegfried Gohr calls this a “cycle . . . an orbiting around an object,” because “representation, that is, the symbol as the impossible and therefore illicit reconciliation of opposites, must be destroyed,” and a potential “shining of the origin of the picture” sought. In this single work entitled 45, 1989—a series of variations on a female torso, upside down as usual—the scratching of the surface, the planing, the plowing, the unorthodox fencing and netting, emerge. The German issue crystallizes anew, likewise the European issue, and many chips fall where they may. All this takes place on this very soil. Since 1945, the quality of life has become very, very good; but rigid fences have always fallen on our heads, erected by history, erected in the course of reconstruction and the economic miracle, which was pursued with severity and a certain fanaticism. A parallel reconstruction of German painting has taken place.

Now a new phase has been launched. Circumstances demand a second reconstruction. It is history after the (cold) war, which the socialist countries have forfeited. During the upheaval, representation is impossible; this is the phase in which representation has to be reconstituted. Strange that the work of this hermetic painter, who normally withdraws entirely into painting, can plug into the current political climate even if this was not his goal. These paintings were done before the euphoria, before the opening of the borders, between June 2 and September 15,1989. Baselitz, of course, takes off from his own craft, style, and characteristic media—woodcut, painting, pastels, wooden sculpture—and he sums up. Reconstruction based upon tradition, however, does not come without guilt; yet it wants reorganization, wants austerity, wants avoidance of cluttering in contents and emotions. Reconstruction at the same time desires a reformulation of the potential strength and raison d’être of painting.

In reality, unfortunately, we can anticipate all too well certain things that will happen in the second “reconstruction,” just as, in Baselitz’s works we always know what to expect. Yet, in this situation, painting can always go a bit further: the grid doesn’t fall on your head, the grid forms the ground for the head lying above it. Upside down. This creates a new zone, the one that cannot be neutralized, cannot be united. This is the zone where “dangerous” weapons still exist and will keep on existing. Baselitz’s weapon is painting. Baselitz’s premise continues to exist—the premise that the quality of painting, wooden sculptural painting, must always preserve something that lies beyond all ethical or esthetic systems.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.