A way to share and manage lots.
Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Luhring Augustine, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Luhring Augustine, Twenty Five, May 7 - June 18, 2010
"You don't make stupid jokes in art.” Martin Kippenberger
"I am a traveling salesman. I deal in ideas.” Martin Kipperberger
“I'm not a big theory person. So when I get asked questions that demand serious statements, I just make it up.” Albert Oehlen
Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen: Playing with the Unsolvable
Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger are among the most iconic German artists of the past century. Emerging from a generation ridden with national and political disillusionment, they navigated controversial subjects with artistic levity. Through their satirical and outlandish humor, Oehlen and Kippenberger investigated the current generational culture of their homeland of Germany. As art historian Gregory H. Williams has observed regarding the prevalence of wit in German art of the 1980’s, “for a nation confronting a horrific period from its recent past, the embrace of laughter must be considered as a radical response to matters of a most serious nature.” (Gregory H. Williams, Permission to Laugh: Humor and Politics in Contemporary German Art, 2012, p. 11)
The past resonates as a consistent theme in Kippenberger’s paintings of the 1980’s, exemplified by Plusquamperfekt - gehabt haben (Past Perfect - have had), 1984. The title alone emphasizes the grammatical past and past perfect tenses, which function to distinguish the particular order of past events. Kippenberger’s titles act as clues to an unsolvable visual puzzle. The tension of the “have had” of the title echoes the resistant connection between the composition and the text. A simplistic house stands at the center of the composition; the four-sided structure is a reference to fellow German artist Hubert Kiecol’s Standardhausers. Kiecol exhibited his small concrete houses, stairs and other architectural models at Galerie Max Hetzler in 1984, the same year that the present lot was painted. Kiecol’s scaled down architectural forms investigate the nature of home and security. In the present work, Kippenberger’s appropriated Standardhauser is made of brown and is accompanied by two of his iconic white eggs and vibrant green pickles or German gherkins. The egg for Kippenberer references rebirth, reproduction and the natural cycle in the form of a comical artistic symbol. The lower quadrant of the composition is a sea of charcoal black upon which a “g” and an “h”—referencing gehabt haben in the title—can be faintly made out, as though drawn into the paint with his pointer finger.
For both Kippenberger and Oehlen, the canvas became a plate upon which to serve their colorful cultural commentary, constantly shifting between stinging criticism and playful wit as can be seen in Oehlen’s painting entitled Lämmle Live. The work was painted in 2004, the year that the television show Lämmle live ended its nine year run. The program played live every Saturday night and featured Brigitte Lämmle, a psychologist who dispensed advice to viewers calling into her show seeking personal guidance. Brigitte’s appearance is often commented upon: her loose fizzy hair, thickly knit wool sweaters, tweed skirts and box-like sneakers established her as the embodiment of comfort. Over 15,000 people called in every Saturday night while only ten were selected to be on the talk show to share their most intimate personal struggles. This reference to the exposure of inner turmoil is visually illustrated in the present lot, as Oehlen draws art historical references to the palette of his teacher Sigmar Polke, while the cacophony of smudges and drips calls upon the active compositions of his friend and fellow painter Christopher Wool. Within the scene, half-obscured figures are discernable. The face of a man with small wire rim glasses in the upper right quadrant, the legs and feet of a figure donning very Brigitte-esque white thick socks and sneakers at the upper left, and the full body of a man speaking through a megaphone runs horizontality along the lower left edge of the canvas. This chaotic storm of imagery could perhaps allude to the mental states of Lämmle live’s callers, all desperately seeking a quick fix their pressing problem. The painting may stand as an homage to the female mentor or a criticism of the gimmicky, media-based form of psychological advice that was dispersed so haphazardly to the public. This visual tangle of human forms and geometric swaths of paint has been aptly described by curator Michael Clark, citing Oehlen as an artist who “has painted himself into a position where none of his canvases can be described as either abstract or figurative… Freed from any notion of formal repetition, of content or theme, he is able to investigate, question, experiment and play in the plastic cosmology – the very material and matter – that constitutes and defines that universe.” (Martin Clark, “Abstract Painting Must Die Now” in Albert Oehlen: I Will Always Champion Good Painting, 2006, p. 59)
Oehlen and Kippenberger, as comrades and partners-in-crime, danced the line of social decency in order to push the boundaries of their artist genius. The bad boys of the Cologne-based gallery, Galerie Max Hetzler, Oehlen explains that he and Kippenberger “made asses of ourselves and made everyone hate us. We climbed on tables and pulled down our pants—extreme artist behavior.” (Albert Oehlen in Susanne Kippenberger, Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families, 2011, p. 246) Beneath this boisterous and performative appearance, the two artists, ever engrossed in the world around them, responded to current events with a poignant joke often conveyed – or misconveyed - through a series of undecipherable symbols, yet it “become(s) clear that ambiguity was a conscious stance.” Max Hetzler recollects that Oehlen and Kippenberger “took extreme positions and brought a sharp intelligence to bear,” the two artists’ daily exchanges sparked an affectionate visual language, one which was fueled by the public’s reactions. “In order to maintain public interest in their work, the artists had to keep their in-jokes just comprehensible enough for an uninitiated viewer to find access. The present lots sprinkle false visual hints at a complex pictorial enigma, clocked in the guise of humor; Oehlen’s and Kippenberger’s inside jokes became the catalyst for their successful outward creations. (Gregory H. Williams, Permission to Laugh: Humor and Politics in Contemporary German Art, 2012, p. 11, 146)
New York Auction 8 May 2016