New York

Martin Kippenberger

Metro Pictures

It is ironic that Martin Kippenberger once claimed that his work had no style, for his “style” has not only influenced a generation of younger German artists, but it has informed recent artistic tendencies more generally. Fueled by the blasphemies of early Dada, the politicized Pop of Capital Realism, and the bad-boy antics of “neo-Expressionism,” Kippenberger’s predatory instincts have marauded Modernist traditions and post-Modern mannerisms alike. Who can forget his early kamikaze missions, such as the 1987 exhibition “Peter,” displaying the wreckage of search-and-destroy operations that shattered all manner of artistic piety, signaling the end of just about everything? Ultimately, however, art was never a casualty, for while Kippenberger poked holes in every prevailing theory, method, and memory of art, he persistently and obsessively churned it out. In retrospect, his defiant and bewildering accumulations seem to have employed every trick of appropriation, simulation, pastiche, and parody, obliterating traditional notions of authorship, content, and value and paving the transition, on this side of the Atlantic, from the antiseptically formal work of the ’80s to the impoverished scatter art of the ’90s. Perhaps, through exposure to Kippenberger’s taste for more rather than less, we’ve learned to see in a different way; maybe, in his transition from enfant terrible to eminence grise, he has mellowed a bit. Whatever the case, this exhibition approaches familiar narrative themes in a less frenzied manner and actually contains some quite beautiful objects.

A partial inventory includes a “social-history” section: a tall, metal lookout tower next to a faux birch forest littered with large wooden replicas of pharmaceuticals; a viewer-operated twirling ejector seat from a fighter plane on a toylike track: an accordion wall of windows fitted with protective, inflatable airbags and suction pumps. There is also a “cultural-difference” section: a boutique of T-shirts, each screen-printed with scenes of Venice, California and labeled MY WAY SHOOTING, 1990 (in reference to recent spates of random freeway violence); an empty restaurant in the downstairs gallery, serving spaghetti Japanese-style (he couldn’t get a decent bowl of spaghetti bolognese in Tokyo or L.A.). There is also what might be called a “problems in art” section, consisting of a dumpster brimming with destroyed canvases painted by an assistant instructed to make “perfect” Kippenbergers (the paintings were then trashed for being too perfect); a couple of large color photographs of the replicas; and a series of unknown paintings covered in vacuform, pinkish latex “slipcovers.” There is also a “problems with style and function” section that includes attenuated bronze, Giacomettiesque sculptures; several Jugendstil and ugly Moderne lamps; an oval, frosted-glass mirror wrapped with a lamp and post as its frame. And then there is a carving of a crucified frog, hung high over the spot where, for his last exhibition, Kippenberger stood his self-portrait facing the corner like a bad boy.

Never one to distill multiplicity into a cohesive interpretative structure, Kippenberger still courts overkill and revels in abundant high spirits and puns: nothing is hidden though much remains to be seen. The fulcrum of his practice is the conjunction of autobiography and artmaking. The persona of the artist is never a fictional one; it is as real as the desire to salvage art from both the complacent malaise into which it is always in danger of sinking and the clutches of the regulators of its distribution—and that impulse is inevitably like a breath of fresh air.

Jan Avgikos