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Monographic exhibition devoted to Georg Baselitz opens at the Guggenheim in Bilbao
Georg Baselitz, Rebel, 1965. Oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. Tate: Purchased 1982, London © Georg Baselitz, 2017. Photo: Friedrich Rosenstiel, Cologne.

BILBAO.- The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is presenting Georg Baselitz. Heroes , a monographic exhibition devoted to a series of paintings that depict vulnerable, defeated "heroes", created in 1965/66 by one of the most influential artists of our time, Georg Baselitz. This show, organized by the Städel Museum Frankfurt in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Moderna Museet Stockholm, and the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, has assembled 60 paintings, drawings, and sketches from the series for the first time. Baselitz’s monumental, frenzied, defiant figures are an energetic statement of the artist’s selfassertion and identity that ran contrary to the prevailing artistic and ideological trends of his time. Establishing an ideal continuity between past and present, the exhibition in Bilbao (as in Rome) concludes with a selection of paintings from the Remix cycle that Georg Baselitz began working on in 2005, which includes Heroes and New Types from 2007 and 2008.

The artist has admitted, "What I could never escape was Germany, and being German." In 1965, Georg Baselitz saw post-war Germany as a state of multifaceted destruction where ideologies, political systems, and artistic styles were up for discussion. This lack of order was very much in keeping with the artist’s own nature, and he chose to emphasize the equivocal aspects of his time from a skeptical perspective. His Heroes in their tattered battle dress possess an accordingly contradictory character, marked by both failure and resignation. The fact that the artist—who was just 27 years old at the time—decided to take on the subject of ―heroes‖ or ―types‖ was quite provocative, as (male) heroism and its onetime exponents had been called into question by the war and its aftermath.

The fragile and paradoxical Heroes find their counterpoint in form: the consistently frontal depiction and central placement of the clearly outlined figure contrast with the wildness of the palette and the vehemence of the pictorial style. Baselitz thus illustrated an unwelcome reality that challenged the story of success of the German Federal Republic’s economic miracle by resorting to figuration, a supposedly obsolete form. Yet Baselitz was concerned with far more than general social issues—he was also reflecting on his own place in society.

Soldiers, shepherds, rebels, guerrilla fighters, and modern painters are the Heroes and New Types that Georg Baselitz produced in a burst of intensely solitary expressive productivity. Painted with vigorous brushwork where colors, lines, and figures rival each other in strength and intensity, these pictures portray a brand-new kind of hero.

Setting aside the positive image associated with the rhetoric of wartime and post-war propaganda, Baselitz’s Heroes are the epitome of frailty, insecurity, and inconsistency. These giants in tattered uniforms stand out starkly, wounded and vulnerable, against a rubble-strewn background. Yet the feeling of despair is attenuated by the presence of an object, like an artist’s palette, or the gesture of picking up a small cart, or a shred of countryside as if protecting the seeds of some future crop.

These figures are both tragic failure and a sign of hope: precious ambiguity expressed by a young man born in Germany before the demise of the Nazi regime, who later witnessed the division of his country into two irreconcilable halves and was unable to find a valid model for society in either of them.

In addition to showcasing nearly the entire cycle of Heroes or New Types , the exhibition also presents a selection of drawings and woodcuts on the same theme, as well as the earliest examples of Baselitz’s "Fracture paintings" from 1966 in which the artist experimented with the reorganization of images that preceded the period of upside-down paintings.

According to exhibition curator Max Hollein, "The Heroes are both a landmark and a fervent pivot in Georg Baselitz’s oeuvre. They have sprung from a deep, inner necessity in deliberate confrontation with pressing, charged subjects and unfold a timeless reflection on the artist’s existence as such. Giving expression to strikingly visualized and self-felt isolation, uprooting, and lack of orientation, the works render the artist’s precarious experience in a broken world, establishing a paradigmatic image of his condition."

Baselitz's Heroes and New Types are furnished with a repertoire of recurring objects: field packs, palettes and brushes, or torture implements. Despite their repetitive 162 x 130 cm format, each work strikes us with an expression all its own, which depends on the chosen method of painting and the colors employed. The ample chronological sequence of the selected works illustrates Baselitz’s gradual departure from his motif. It is only a short distance from this series to his subsequent theme of upside-down figures.

Baselitz began the Heroes and New Types workgroup during the period he spent at the Villa Romana in Florence on a grant. After returning to West Berlin, he continued developing the theme.

The much-discussed history of Baselitz scandals that had begun in 1963 with the show at Galerie Werner & Katz was now drawing to a close. The Hero paintings represent a turning point in the oeuvre of the artist’s early years and today can be regarded as a historical document. These works were not aligned with any artistic trends of the time; they did not embrace the ZERO Group’s vision of the future, the French or American approaches to abstraction, or the variations on German post-war Art Informel. Even twenty years after the end of the war, Baselitz was not content to merely convey the superficial feeling of a new beginning. And even if the Heroes and New Types adhere to recurring motifs, they are monstrous, broken, and forceful in their painterly formulation. They represent an important stance within post–1945 German art.

Establishing an ideal continuity between past and present, the exhibition concludes with a selection of paintings from the Remix cycle that Georg Baselitz began to work on in 2005, which heralded the Heroes and New Types of 2007 and 2008.

In his Remix paintings, Baselitz revisited the most provocative aspects of his own history, such as Die grosse Nacht im Eimer (The Big Night Down the Drain), 1962 - 63, and Die grossen Freunde (The Great Friends) , 1965, and made new versions or interpretations of them with the benefit of hindsight. Enlarged and rapidly painted with swathes of bright, transparent hues and explosive, meandering lines, the Remix
paintings are radical transubstantiations—part-caricature, part-ghost—of their more ponderous predecessors. The spontaneity with which they are executed gives rise to mnemonic flashes of things in the past, present, and future. The impulse to clarify and update is evident, but the haunting, fleeting quality of this work also has to do with a mature artist's meditations on time, presence, failure, and possibility. The artist has explained, "I like the word 'remix' because it comes from youth culture."

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