Markus Lüpertz

Fonti del Clitunno

The ancient Umbrians personified and deified the Clitunno river, which rises just outside Spoleto in a small pool protected by willows. This was a sacred site, sung about by Propertius and Claudiano, by Virgil and Byron. Markus Lüpertz evidently aspires to join the ranks of these poets, for he has dedicated ten of his bronze sculptures to the god. The pieces date from the last five years. Only one, Clitunno, 1990, was made specifically for this exhibition, in which they stand outdoors, on tall pedestals, near the river’s source.

The tone of the show, then, is emphatic, rhetorical, perhaps even pretentious—intentionally “heroic.” This is precisely why the inclusion of two enormous, ugly sculptures, both entitled Die Hässliche erschreckt die Schöne (The ugly frightens the beautiful, 1988–89), ends up seeming completely wrong: they break up the thematic and conceptual unity of the exhibition, which is developed around the theme of the origin. The first origin, of course, is the earth, and the sculptures in fact seem produced by a primordial force that preserves some of the earth’s magnetic density: their surfaces are rough, like cooled lava. It’s true that this force has molded matter into forms that clearly pertain to the classical code, but this is a strange kind of classicism, a reversed, mirror image, perhaps. Standbein-Spielbein (Supporting leg-free leg, 1982), for example, is the last in a cycle of Lüpertz’s works dealing with body parts. Here, in place of the classical bust, the lower part of the torso is presented: two enormous legs join at the height of the belly, where the sculpture is interrupted.

Lüpertz imposes a fundamentally expressionistic principle of deformation in these works. The bodies he sculpts are not descriptive unities, ordered by a naturalistic distribution of weights and volumes; rather they become conceptual unities, and they tend to manifest not the human but the mythic. It is because they originate in the dialectical tension between Apollo and Dionysus that the surfaces are full of cracks and fissures, explosions and fractures, and are almost always governed by a principle of decomposition conveyed through Cubist and in particular Picassoid planes. In some cases—Titan, 1986, Apoll, 1989, Prometeus, 1989—surprising colors such as yellow, red, blue, and green increase the sculptures’ drama. Their poses and torsions turn these works into clear examples of a neomonumentalism that is almost parodic. They seek no compromise with the viewer but must be accepted on their own terms. Clearly they have their secret, and they maintain a certain tragic intimacy. But it is too evident—even if it is clear that this is part of the game—that Lüpertz wants to shock us with his sculptures that he wants us to turn up our noses at them.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italtian by Marguerite Shore.