New York

Georg Baselitz

Pace Wildenstein

Georg Baselitz’s painting has acquired a new, drawing-based style in which the physicality of the painted line is emphasized by simply squeezing the paint from the tube and leaving it in unbrushed, toothpastelike squiggles. Hoch Habsburg (High Habsburg, 1992) shows a dark, near-black ground—a loose allover array activated by mostly white, curvilinear lines. Gundel, 1992, redeploys the familiar Baselitz motif of a crudely gridded, very loosely painted ground with only the suggestion of a human head. The figure, which began so firmly in Baselitz’s work, was then subjected to various subversive loosenings and disorientations. Here, it becomes almost transparent and incoherent as it lies on the black ground, as if fading into a primal abyss. In Franziska, 1992, hints of a seated figure, and in Bildfiinfzehn (Painting fifteen, 1992–93), of a recumbent one, emerge from the almost consuming black ground.

Baselitz’s recent sculptures also indicate a reduction of means—an almost nihilistic shapelessness. Large limewood blocks are worked with chainsaw, axe, and router to eliminate any fineness or delicacy of touch. There seems to be an attempt to bring the figure to a rudimentary primitivist starkness. Weiblicher Torso (Female torso, 1993) is the trunk of a woman whose erogenous zones are rudely painted in red in the midst of an otherwise unfinished rough-wood surface. A very similar figure, Mannlicher Torso (Male torso, 1992), appears to possess the primary sex characteristics of the female. Two larger-than-life depictions of human heads are also divided by gender—one male, one female—with the difference here indicated by the female’s longer hair. In these works the hair and facial features are blotched with red, just as the breasts and pubic triangle are in the torsos. Moving away from the phallic-aggressive woodsmen of his early paintings, here Baselitz seems to be shifting to a personal resolution of the male/female dichotomy that rests on the implication of a fundamental similarity and on the primacy of the female as the underlying universal.

Recent developments in Baselitz’s oeuvre suggest an artist attempting to erase skill and learning from his work while simultaneously erasing culturally derived gender distinctions. One gets the impression that he turned to sculpture a decade or so ago in part because he had spent less time learning it, and thus it would be easier for him to unlearn. With the present work, his paintings catch up with the sculptures at unlearning, giving the impression of an originary gesture—of hacking a form out of prime matter—somewhat as Baselitz’s German Expressionist predecessors sought to do earlier in the century.

Thomas McEvilley