Jörg Immendorff

Though the 19th-century notion of the artist as genius is now often regarded as a myth, Rudolf Schmitz’s catalogue essay assures us that it is precisely Jörg Immendorff’s recognition of the complicity between himself and his genius that has led to his “clear-sighted self-portrait.”

In Solo, 1990, Immendorff sits in a chair; on the table in front of him, we see a champagne bucket containing two bottles, a half-empty glass, a pack of cigarettes, and a full ashtray. He props his head on one hand, his other hand holds a cigarette. Outside, in the background of the painting, the ignorant, seemingly blithe, go about their daily business. The artist is seen as the lonesome hero, vicariously assuming the sufferings of the world, drowning his sorrow in alcohol, and thereby perishing. This is no “clear-sighted self-portrait.” This is a self-portrait that feeds on the mythic ideal of the transfiguration of the artist so dear to bourgeoisie during the waning years of the 19th century.

In 3. Oktober 90, 1990, Immendorff sits on a sofa, next to Max Ernst. In front of them, we see hot potatoes: the two artists fix their spiritualized gazes on the rising steam, unaware that Andre Breton, with a wry face and a crate of pickles, has just arrived at their table. In Söhne der Sonne (Sons of the sun, 1990), Immendorff, standing behind a sofa, bites into a cookie. Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz are sitting on the sofa. A. R. Penck is sitting on the table in front of them. They are all wearing radiant yellow suits; their faces are jet-black. In Kleine Reise (Little journey, 1990), Immendorff sits next to an elderly man—presumably another V.I.P. of art history—whose thick cigar is being imperiously lit by a standing Joseph Beuys. Immendorff stands with Lüpertz, Immendorff sits with Marcel Duchamp. . . . The sheer listing of these subjects is annoying enough, and we haven’t even gotten to the technique, which is clumsier than usual. No trace of “clear-sightedness” here, and the trumped-up genius seems to have long since abandoned the artist. All that remains is the self-aggrandizement of a burned-out painter.

What has happened? Immendorff’s earlier paintings, such as Café Deutschland, 1978–80, which dealt with the political themes of the division of Germany—the conflict between socialism and capitalism—have been highly praised. But there is nothing of this subject matter in his latest pictures, and this at a time when these issues are more urgent than ever before. We could expect some reaction from an artist who depicts himself as suffering from the inadequacies of this world; instead, Immendorff celebrates himself. In hindsight, I wonder whether the earlier paintings might not also have been mannered self-portraits—albeit not so blatant and with a better technique. For with Karl Marx and Bertolt Brecht, with whom Immendorff depicted himself in his earlier pictures, we felt we were on the locomotive of world history, zooming into the future. But what do we do if the train suddenly changes direction or if our car even becomes uncoupled? A few clever people might offer the following advice: Jump onto a passing train—the train of art history—with the artists Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Joseph Beuys, who are undeniably at the forefront. Whether this train will carry the painter Immendorff to the Olympus of art, however, is more than doubtful.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.

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