Georg Baselitz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session New York Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Announcing itself with palpable gravitas, Georg Baselitz’s Wir fahren aus  is testament to an artist at the height of his powers. Executed in 2016, it belongs to Baselitz’s discrete series of monumental self-portraits and double portraits of him and his wife Elke, examples of which reside in such esteemed collections as the Fondation Beyeler or the Hall Art Foundation. Wir fahren aus (which translates to “We're off”) was notably the namesake of the eponymous exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey, London, that debuted the new body of work to great acclaim. “Baselitz, one of the great artists to have breathed visceral, mythic, tragically aware new life into German culture since the 1960s, is 78,” Guardian critic Jonathan Jones wrote at the time. “I would not normally record an artist’s age but age is what his courageous new paintings, sculptures and drawings are all about. That–and love, sex and death.”i With a nod to Rembrandt’s unflinching late self-portraits and demonstrating the unfading force of his painterly virtuosity long into his career, Wir fahren aus confronts the artist’s own image with an uncompromising eye.

    “It’s eine Lebenskompression—a compressed form of life’s experience…already in the studio I felt they were the best work I’d ever done.”
    —Georg Baslitz 

    Building on the self-portraits of his Avignon series, first shown at the 2015 Venice Biennale the year prior, this body of work offers a powerful meditation on notions time, mortality and transcendentality. In many ways, Baselitz comes full circle with this work—drawing both on his long-standing concern of portraiture and his process of repeating as well as re-interpreting images over time. As with his 2005-2008 Remix series, in which Baselitz created re-imagined versions of his earlier works, here he excavates the past while pushing his painterly idiom further. The double-portraits in this series offer a bookend of sorts to the 1975 painting Bedroom, a upside down portrait of the artist and his wife, seated nude side-by-side in reference to Otto Dix’s The Artist’s Parents, 1924. Baselitz returns to this subject matter some forty years later, confronting the passing of time (and subsequently his own aging) while also offering a hymn to his long marriage to Elke and paying homage to the artistic masters before him.


    Baselitz taps into one of art history’s most enduring themes—confronting the omnipresence of death in a manner that harkens back to German Renaissance paintings such as Hans Baldung Grien’s The Three Ages of Man and Death, 1541-1544, or Lukas Furtenagel’s powerful portrait The painter Hans Burkmair and his wife Anna, 1529. Transcending the allegorical nature of his artistic forebears, Baselitz abstracts his and Elke’s bodies, monumentalizing them as contorted figures against dark backgrounds across which they float as if seen through a hazy mist.


    In His Own Words: Georg Baselitz in Conversation with Andrea Schlieker


    The following is a transcribed excerpt from a filmed conversation held at White Cube, Bermondsey, in conjunction with the exhibition Wir fahren aus (We’re off), 27 April–3 July, 2016, London.


    Andrea Schlieker: Wir fahren aus (We’re off) is ambiguous, especially in the German version. It can refer to a carefree outing, or to a somber farewell. Is this double meaning deliberate?


    Georg Baselitz: It’s intentional but there are many more interpretations. “Wir fahren aus” can also mean: “To fly off the handle. We fly off the handle.” It could just be an expression for anger. There are many meanings. My titles are always ambiguous.


    AS: The double portraits with Elke your wife, are unsparing in exposing the aged body and this almost brutal candor reminds of the late Rembrandt self-portraits. Back to other artists, that might have inspired these works…these paintings of horizontal nudes are reminiscent of the iconographic topos of [Caravaggio’s] The Entombment of Christ, of Manet’s Dead Toreador, of Mantegna’s Lamentation…Were these images in your head? Or were the paintings inspired by your personal experiences of your stay in the hospital? Or was it simply a depiction of you, relaxed in your bed? What was the initial idea for it?”


    Andrea Mantenga, Lamentation of Christ, circa 1480, Collection of the Pinacoteca de Brera, Milan.
    Andrea Mantenga, Lamentation of Christ, circa 1480, Collection of the Pinacoteca de Brera, Milan. Image: © Pinacoteca di Brera, Milano / Bridgeman Images

    GB: “Everything you say is right…Of course I know these paintings. The image of someone lying and someone entering the image horizontally, I have experimented with this endlessly. (…) Recently I’ve enjoyed working on this almost cinematic appearance and disappearance of the body...I want to avoid any mix-ups or confusions, or it be too direct, concerning a person. There is this kind of whirling on the canvas. And I want that at all. I want to achieve a fleeting, disappearing, floating kind of painting…


    AS: It's also closer to abstraction. 

    “I approached these paintings with new resolutions; be braver, more carefree, do it faster, don’t start analyzing it, push yourself, be freer.”
    —Georg Baselitz

    GB: The photograph was simply taken while I was lying on my Italian bed. It’s a wrought iron bed and Elke took the photo of me. Obviously this conjures up a lot of associations…First I create a dark, black backgrounds, day in advance, Once the background is dry, I paint with a very white oil paint, sometimes mixed with a little India yellow, on this black background. The results is a painting that consists of an enormous contrast between black and white... This is the kind of groundwork I need to achieve the result which you eventually can see. Then I take the spray can and hide the image. Like behind a veil or fog. It’s not intended as a psychological expression, but to soften it. (…)


    I approached these paintings with new resolutions; be braver, more carefree, do it faster, don’t start analyzing it, push yourself, be freer. These are the results. 


    Jonathan Jones, "Georg Baselitz review–colossal study of ageing, sex and death," The Guardian, April 27, 2016, online

    • Provenance

      Thaddaeus Ropac, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Georg Baselitz – Six Decades, June 21–September 16, 2018, pp. 240–241, 266 (illustrated, pp. 240-241)


Wir fahren aus

signed, titled and dated "5. I. 016 G. Baselitz wir fahren aus" on the reverse
oil on canvas
72 7/8 x 118 1/8 in. (185 x 300 cm)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $533,400

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig
Specialist, Head of Sale, Afternoon Session
+1 212 940 1279

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 16 May 2023