Georg Baselitz

This exhibition of Georg Baselitz’s new work attracted much attention, including that of people who had long ago lost all interest in Baselitz. Is it because of the amazing way Baselitz has liberated his painting style? Or is it the desire to make him an exception that exerts such great appeal? These paintings break with his conception of the heroic portrait. thereby enabling the work to acknowledge the presence of the viewer and to leave a space for the personal experience of the paintings. The relationship of the viewer to the work offers the possibility of a physical experience, and departs from the totality, arrogance, and totemic quality of Baselitz’s earlier works. Instead of constituting power, these pictures ask where power begins and where it ends. Instead of issuing orders, these paintings execute decisive gestures. In terms of images, this means bright emblems, a nervous ductus, and organic formations, in which motifs emerge and disappear. An ambiance surfaces instead of a concept.

The titles likewise signal farewell and departure: Der letzte Adler (The last eagle), Das letzte Römerpaar (The last Roman couple), Bilddrei (Picture three), Bildsechs (Picture six; all works 1991). Viewer expectations are contradicted; even Baselitz himself allows contradictions. His signature motifs drizzle in, but they are never dominant or heroic. These are draftsman’s paintings and represent an unequivocal desire for untheoretical art and for painting as a sovereign medium. The themes are twisted and intertwined “[as the painting had suffered from a fever,” as Rudi Fuchs writes in the catalogue. One experiences the disintegration of the construction of person and history; one witnesses the process by which dissolution finds a style and enters a new, open space that is more than just construction.

Baselitz’s paintings deal with rejection and negation, not by disappearance, but through superimpositions, stratifications,and gradual disintegrations. That is what draws the viewer into them and allows him or her to settle into the chaos, the open knots, the traces of history. With them, we twist our way in and out of the petrifaction of knowledge. Reality is what we suppress, and it resurfaces here, partly as the (perhaps surprising) acceptance of its magnified and undefinable presence.

Baselitz doesn’t want painting to outstrip reality; rather, his work aims at confronting reality symbolically in its own state of sensory emergency. And that is what produces these swarms of forgotten lines and black splotches with footprints and crude, green-and-pinkish brush-welts that frequently create heads and bodies. The viewer emerges with a pleasantly liberated field of vision. This functions best in Bilddrei, that knotlike double body on a white multilayered background. As Pierre Klossowski has so aptly written, there is a point “at which the artist’s eye and the viewer’s eye become one for an instant: the instant of incipient emotion. At such a point, the viewer discovers, as if in a memory, the reference of his own confusion to the experience of the other—the artist. . . whose testimony provides the viewer with the commentary of a shared emotion.”

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.