First the Feet

By Roberto Ohrt. Excerpt from the book 'Kippenberger'

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Similarly minimal and exquisite, formal correspondences also pervade the next disparate pair: Willy Millowitsch, the Cologne-dialect actor and theatermanager, and Larry Flint, the inventor and publisher of Hustler (p. 117). Both have appeared at the photographer's in black caps, a disguise which in no sense belongs to their usual roles, half masking them as public figures, while half removing the mask itself. Millowitsch comes across more like Mickey Mouse and is not on his big stage. Flint was a pioneer of better business in the field of "nudes and sales", in other words he was less concerned with freeing the slaves than with trade in naked flesh. Both may have thought they were taking a stance for their countries and understood their mission as a service to freedom or even as a contribution to freedom of expression. This is the sense in which we are to understand the insignia of national importance both deploy: as Mephistopheles, Millowitsch has ventured on to the sovereign territory of Gustaf Gründgens, while the pornographer is sitting as a historical freedom fighter for the spirit of the Bill of Rights. If Gründgens - the state actor for the reconstruction of respect for the land of thinkers and poets - were a playboy, then Millowitsch is the anarchistic choice, and hustler.

At first an unusual ensemble of three pictures (p. 74/75) of the same height but different breadths dating from 1983 seems to have nothing to do with the fate of the public figure. We have no title for it, nor do we know how the three pictures were to be arranged within it, but there is little doubt they were conceived as a group. In all three cases the similarly amateurish way they are framed is striking. The canvas is patched and sewn together in a pointless fashion. Everything seems to have been run down on purpose, an impression which extends to the confusion of the painting itself. The paint is so dusty and leached-out it seems no longer to want to reproduce its subject properly: motifs are almost submerged between contours, lines and fractures. In particular, at first sight, the picture with a suspended neon letter looks like a scrapheap. The interior of the picture is just as unwilling as the broken frame. It is unclear what's within the pictorial space, and what outside. A stripe of dark blue becomes space, the night somewhere in the background; then: frames within frames hiding surfaces, as though lots of pictures were stored there, backcloths or fake-work, here sprayed with hard stencil outlines, then hung as curtains in drips until, in the center, a proper sign of a frame is recognizable, the sketch of a turned wooden frame for a narrow vertical format, as for a mirror. Indeed, this weak drawing holds various silver tones together: aluminum foil, one grey-painted rectangle set to one side, another pulled towards the bottom, in addition to silver from the spray-can, a pretty disparate conglomerate smashed together; and, to add to all this, the matt foil was crumpled and mounted on a thin sheet of hardboard before being incorporated into the canvas as a broken off, fragmented item. To the right, the picture loses itself in pale, blown away areas. They hold nothing, and no longer demarcate the space on this side.

A network of old lines in turquoise covers the whole picture with a slightly distorted boredom, a field for a game of Nine Men's Morris, and finally there's a "k" in red neon. The little letter sits on an electric cable like a little bird on a swing. Its weak red ignites a flood of homely emotion in the texture of the endless game, against the background of the flat space, and slowly then it depicts a figure that withdraws in front of this mirror into the interior and becomes clearer in the other two canvases. In the narrow picture with the large nail-file, the silver loses its shine in dust, almost as if it were ground down by constant filing. In its excessive size and in the magenta of the plastic case, this appliance has something of a 1960s American car, the curves and edges of a Cadillac with too much lipstick and too heavy eyelashes, the eyeliner too long, and, somehow, a whole lot of wigs in an old box.

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Martin Kippenberger after an opening of Reinhard Mucha in front of his painting 8 pictures to think about whether we can keep this up, Max Hetzler Gallery, Cologne, 1983. Foto: Wilhelm Schürmann