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Hamburger Bahnhof explores the private and public persona of the artist Martin Kippenberger
A woman looks at the 1981 painting "Untitled" (From the series Dear Painter, Paint for Me) by German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997), on display at the exhibition "Martin Kippenberger Sehr Gut / Very Good" at Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof museum for contemporary art on February 21, 2013. The exhibition, a retrospective of the artist's prolific and varied output opens from February 23 to August 18, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL.
BERLIN.- The 25th of February 2013 would have been Martin Kippenberger’s 60th birthday. To mark the occasion, the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin is showing 300 of his works on an exhibition floorspace of 3000 sq. m.

After a life of excess, Kippenberger died at the age of just 44. In the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – an artist is being exhibited whose life cannot be separated from his works. He was a painter, actor, writer, musician, drinker, dancer, traveller, charmer, enfant terrible and someone who liked to stage himself, in short, an ‘exhibitionist’, as he himself said. The intention behind the show is to bring out this interpenetration of personality and oeuvre, along with the enormous variety of his artistic output across the total spectrum of his creative work. The foundation is the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, which includes such central works as ‘Uno di voi, un tedesco in Firenze’ (1976–1977), ‘Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm dich’ (1989), and Kippenberger’s numerous drawings on hotel paper.

‘Martin Kippenberger: sehr gut | very good’ does not however seek to be a retrospective, but rather an approach to Martin Kippenberger the private and public individual as well as the artist. Some 300 works – private photographs, books, record sleeves and films – will be on show from 23 February 2013 at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin.

Even though he only spent a short time in West Berlin – he came in 1978 and left the city again in 1981 – he already developed here some of the major themes of his artistic cosmos. Thus he announced: ‘Berlin must be re-painted’, and made a name for himself as the co-proprietor (briefly) of the legendary punk club SO36 and by setting up the ‘Büro Kippenberger’ office, which he used as a base for the provision or delegation of a whole range of services. He also appeared as a musician in the band ‘Luxus’, and as an actor. While with his series ‘Uno di voi, un tedesco in Firenze’ created during a visit to Italy he was still working as a painter in oils on canvas, in Berlin he exchanged many of its numerous parts for free food and drink in the legendary ‘Paris Bar’, which he also painted. Shortly afterwards, though, with his series ‘Lieber Maler, male mir’ he undermined the cliché of the painter-genius once again by ordering the large-format paintings from a poster-painter, and made no secret of the fact either. Later he was to commission crucified frogs from a carver of devotional objects – one of his many works to give rise to scandal. Yet with works such as ‘Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm dich’ [‘Martin, be ashamed of yourself and stand in the corner’] he managed to make positive capital from the public outrage which he was constantly causing.

A multipart installation, often described as ‘White Pictures’ and hitherto seldom exhibited, is also on show. It consists of eleven white canvases, set in the white wall and, with the joins plastered, practically become one with the wall. On closer inspection, transparent but glossy writing in a child’s hand becomes visible. The texts are in the manner of school reports on Kippenberger’s works, which are, without exception given the top grade ‘very good’ – dictated of course by Kippenberger. Irony, concept and avant-garde rhetoric fuse here into the superficially empty ‘white cube’. Much as Martin Kippenberger liked exhibitions of his works, however, he had little time for art historians and their verdicts. The title of the exhibition ‘Martin Kippenberger: sehr gut | very good’ is not just a reference to the white paintings, however, but also to one of his hundred-plus publications – the 1978 magazine with the bilingual title ‘sehr gut. very good’.

In the midst of all the irony, the exhibition also focuses on a man who knew how to put his approaching death to artistic purpose. He paints himself in the poses of the shipwrecked victims in Théodore Géricault’s famous 1819 painting: bloated, aged, exhausted. Quite generally, selfdepiction is an important part of his work and his life. Thus he appears also in a Picasso pose or in Joseph Beuys’s felt suit, stages himself as a Turkish charwoman and calls the result ‘Helmut Newton für Arme’ [‘The Poor Man’s Helmut Newton’]. The abundance of photographs, above all self-portraits, is thus enormous. The paintings, drawings, sculptures, posters, books and music will be supplemented by selected photographs, and thus allow a nuanced and comprehensive view of Kippenberger – thirty years after he left Berlin.

Today he is regarded as one of the most important artists of his generation, and his name enjoys international renown.

‘Art is in any case only looked at in retrospect… I would say, 20 years is the period. […] What people will still say or not say about me then is what matters. Whether I spread a good mood around, or not. And I am working on people being able to say: Kippenberger was good mood!’ he commented in in an interview 1991.



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