First the Feet

By Roberto Ohrt. Excerpt from the book 'Kippenberger'

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After being bandaged expertly in the hospital, Martin Kippenberger naturally immortalized the result for the camera and used one of the shots as an illustration for the invitation card to his 1981 exhibition Dialog mit der Jugend [Dialogue with Youth] . A year later, he based a self-portrait in oil on canvas on the same photograph. The format and medium present his condition in a pretty drastic or realistic manner. His painting does not shrink from satirical exaggeration of its violent, expressive qualities. Night and stars or confetti still fly around the patient's ears, along with a few blinking advertising signs signaling pleasure drinking and dancing, champagne glasses, atmosphere and music, thoughts turning on comic symbols and neon worlds. And in the middle of the damaged face, matching the plaster strips, putty rises, inches thick, from the picture. On the one hand, it gives a lively idea of how thoroughly his nose was beaten to a pulp replaced by nothing but a feeling of numbness. On the other, the language of the material deals unmistakably, and as directly, with popular equations of art interpretation: the kind in which for example Francis Bacon sought his effects in blood and grease on canvas with equal, literal vehemence. The great hams of the English painter enjoyed near universal approval and admiration at the time; and, in his case, the swollen material was oil-paint, not sealant from the builder's yard.

Through puberty to success

Under the influence of the First World War the Dadaists and Surrealists had made the position and use of art in society one of their central themes. The impression of success in their own work was not suppressed. The conditions of social recognition were negotiated directly in the material of the art itself. Not much of this survived the Second World War, and the few heirs of radical modernity were largely clumsy in their approach, or else had barely any sense of the possibilities of art, of its poetic magic. For the rest, a corresponding attentiveness was, rather, entirely overplayed and negated, particularly in Germany, where only a few artists wanted to reflect the lines of gravitation in existing power relations in their actions. Sigmar Polke had discovered the totally forgotten and rejected late painting of Francis Picabia and trained his draughtsmanship with reference to it. This role model demanded an eye for the social dimension of the art-worthy and its symbols - although, in his demystifications, Polke did not directly go against the powers-that-be. That had been done by Joseph Beuys, all the more rigorously; he rightly attacked general backwardness in this area - although, in his case, veering off course into exaggeration or pure naivety.

For a long time no-one in the art world had done anything as vehement as they had in music in the late 1970s, where projections of "the star", "the hero", "the loner" were challenged. Punk and New Wave developed their styles from a demonstrative destruction of all images that had previously occupied the stage. Systematic disappointment of the performance situation was their first and most important message; the noise of all nice dreams collapsing matched the intensity of the pleasure they took in it. Their fantasy included the game with "the times" and recognition yet to come. As no-one wanted to join the established success program, disposing of all images on offer was portrayed in all the more uninhibited terms. On the one hand, the Establishment was to be dispossessed of the right to fame and glory with all its consequences, while on the other, those ready to do business with the trend were pre-emptively terrorized. They carved the logic of the market into their personal appearances to make the sharpest contrast, whether through shrill stripping of a body degraded to the status of pure sex-object, or as in a conflict, after whose fatal performance they could no longer could be reassembled into anything like a coherent picture.

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Max Hetzler, Martin Kippenberger, 1984. Foto: Wilhelm Schürmann
Martin Kippenberger, 1984. Foto: Wilhelm Schürmann