Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa)

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
    Galerie Samia Saouma, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998

  • Exhibited

    Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Käthe-Kollowitz-Preis 1996, 1997
    Cologne, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Das Floß der Medusa, 1997
    Kunsthalle Basel, Martin Kippenberger, 12 September - 15 November 1998, no. 62 (illustrated)
    Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Martin Kippenberger, Selbstbildnisse, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’, Sozialkistentransport, Laternen etc., 12 February - 15 April 1999
    Paris, Centre Pompidou; Kunsthalle Wien; Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, ‘Cher Peintre...'Lieber Maler...Dear Painter...’ Peintures figuratives depuis l’ultime Picabia, 12 June 2002 - 6 April 2003, pp. 66, 67, 73 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Martin Kippenberger, Martin Kippenberger. The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika. Théodore Géricault, Le Radeau de la Méduse, Copenhagen, 1997, pp. 11, 17, 19, 40
    Frieze, 1997, pp. 70-73
    Roberto Ohrt, ‘Bis zum Floß der Medusa. Eine Ausstellung von Martin Kippenberger’, Die Beute. Zeitschrift für Politik und Verbrechen, no. 14, 1997, pp. 112-117
    Nach Kippenberger/After Kippenberger, exh. cat., Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, 2003, pp. 214-217
    Manfred Hermes, Martin Kippenberger, Cologne, 2005, p. 123
    Martin Kippenberger. The Problem Perspective, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, pp. 257, 283
    Martin Kippenberger: The Raft of the Medusa, exh. cat., Skarstedt Gallery, New York, 2014, no. 51 (illustrated)
    Gisela Capitain, Regina Fiorito and Lisa Franzen, eds., Martin Kippenberger Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume Four: 1993 -1997, London, 2014, no. MK.P 1996.65, pp. 330-331 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa), one of Martin Kippenberger’s final masterworks, exudes the artist’s distinct and compelling eccentricity. Emblematic of his late style, the present work is a seminal canvas from Kippenberger’s epic homage to Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. This eponymous body of works, created in the penultimate year of Kippenberger’s life, encompasses 26 paintings in addition to photographs, sketches, lithographs and a woven rug. The artist’s self-portrait from this formative corpus of works, confronts the spiritual facets of mortality with poignant grace. Amongst the largest of Kippenberger’s self-portraits, the present work was exhibited at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, honouring the artist’s receipt of the Käthe Kollwitz Prize in 1996. Other works from this decisive series are included in prominent international collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Friedrich Christian Flick Collection.

    Distinguished as the most important paintings of the artist’s career, Kippenberger’s Raft of The Medusa portraits leave behind the artist’s cheekily sly and imaginative post-war intervention and confront the viewer with a psychological depiction of mortality. The present masterpiece, painted whilst Kippenberger had liver cancer and was refusing treatment, acknowledges the artist’s impending fortune. Exhibiting profound foresight, the artist’s body lies elegantly reclined, bespeaking spiritual and bodily woe. Kippenberger’s striking expression imparts the distinct image of the artist’s soul departing his still body, his countenance more psychological and unaffected than in any painting from the series. The artist’s revered leitmotifs are at the forefront of the composition, thick washes of colour are built up to present the artist as the torpid cadaver, a self-presentation in line with his recurrent artistic portrayal of himself as a victim, a haunted and sad subject.

    Géricault’s illustrious painting depicts the plight of distressed survivors clinging to a raft after the historic sinking of the frigate Méduse on 2 July 1816. Kippenberger first encountered the monumental painting when his sculptural The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika was presented alongside the Romantic canvas in the 1996 exhibition Memento Metropolis in Copenhagen centred on the theme of catastrophe and civilisation. Seduced by the tender artistic genius of Géricault’s work, Kippenberger staged a photo-shoot in his Jennesdorf studio. His wife Elfie Semotan, under his instruction, produced gracefully frightful photographs of the artist in various dramatic poses mimicking the raft survivors and corpses. Taking these photographs as his source material, Kippenberger produced paintings, sketches and lithographs which formed a major group of self-portraits of the artist impersonating Géricault’s deserted men and their uniquely splayed bodies. Capturing the moment of rescue and peril in his homage to the masterpiece, Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of Medusa) Kippenberger’s cycle of works across various mediums is one of his largest groups of thematically related works. The paintings can be divided in two groups: the group of eighteen portraits - Kippenberger’s last series of portraits and the group of eight paintings representing fragments of an original drawing of the construction of the raft.

    Dissecting the ghostly figure, allowing his body to be assumed by the dark blue passage to the left of the composition and his hand to trail into the unknown, Kippenberger conveys the fragility of his expiring body. The artist’s fragmented figure, from the fragmented, multipartite series, underscores the artist’s tragically fragmented identity in his battle against mortality.
    In preparation for his finished canvas, Géricault had made numerous anatomical drawings and studies at the morgue. These studies of flayed limbs were photocopied and reworked by Kippenberger who embellished the limbs with legs, feet and high-heeled shoes, inspired by 1960s porn-auteur Elmer Batters. Framing the melancholic subject matter within his characteristic mockery and caustic humour, Kippenberger presents a ghostly portrait instilled with more spirit and play than the distressed theme may suggest. Never pious nor self-serious, the artist’s intricately finished expression in Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa) nevertheless instils the work with an air of fear.

    Almost cynical, yet simultaneously mystical, the series flourishes from the wreckage of Géricault’s raft. Continuing Kippenberger’s astounding legacy of self-portraits, the present work irreverently challenges the dictates of centuries of artistic self-presentation. In contrast to the heraldic poses of his earlier self-portraits, the present work shows a depleted artist toward the end of his life. Representing the culmination of Kippenberger’s strategies of appropriation, conceptions of persona and challenging of society, Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa) displays his conflicted relationship with the anachronistic ideal of art historical precedents as well as his tendency to sardonically assume them. With his monumental practice of portraiture serving as a provocative statement throughout his career, developing it in a way that did not enhance his image, the artist creates an illusion out of the concept of self-perception. Questioning the notion of contemporary identity and the function of the artist, Kippenberger comments on artistic creation and presents a reactionary approach toward iconic art historical tropes.

    Appropriating and placing himself within the traumatic imagery of the wreck of the naval ship Méduse, Kippenberger displays his curiosity toward the macabre. Having criticised Gerhard Richter’s Bader Meinhof paintings as kitsch, for Richter ‘did not live it’ (Rachel Kushner, quoted in The Raft of Medusa, exh. cat. Skarstedt Gallery, New York, 2014, p. 9), the question is raised as to the motivation and context behind Kippenberger’s assumption and portrayal of the harrowing event. Within The Raft of Medusa, the artist takes on the trauma of the event and confronts his own mortality, perhaps in eerie premonition of his premature death. Here, at the end of his life, his joking, his understanding of art history and his exhibitionism come to a head in the present self-portrait of a lifeless figure, eyes closed, mouth open, body inert. The staged poise and weary elegance of Kippenberger, whose irregular silhouette is outlined in sketchy strokes atop the washed ground, presents a peaceful reflection on the relationship of the body to death.

    Denying mortality whilst inevitably reaching toward it, Kippenberger ‘deploys regression to anticipate his own future reception but only while always courting the risk of going too far back, tipping into self-annihilation. The artist offers something other than cynical end-gaming, because he anticipates something other than the end of art: an end, that is to say, whose narrative by his desire will never be fully written, but instead, and by definition, will be rewritten time and again’ (Gisela Capitain, Regina Fiorito and Lisa Franzen, eds., Martin Kippenberger Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, volume 4: 1993 -1997, London, 2014, p. 20).

    Through his defining and narcissistic practice of self-portraits Kippenberger boldly challenges the prescribed dictates of artistic self-portrayal. This fervent revision of Géricault’s infamous 1818-1819 painting is a masterwork exemplary of the artist’s boldest achievements. Unmistakably presenting his own figure at the forefront of the composition, Kippenberger recalls the enduring artistic narrative of self-portraits and alter-egos which informs his revolutionary oeuvre. A sombre, enigmatic and simultaneously vibrant reckoning from the artist’s coda, the present masterwork emphasises the inextricable relationship between self-image, life and art for Kippenberger.

8

From the Collection of Marcel Brient, Paris

Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa)

signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'M.K. '96 "Medusa"' on the reverse.
oil on canvas
150 x 180 cm (59 x 70 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1996.

Estimate on Request ♠

sold for £8,446,500

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018