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  • Overview

     

    Depicting a geometric assemblage of red and pink blocks visually morphing into a collection of variously coloured fish, Kopf an Kopf II belongs to Georg Baselitz’s formally poignant series of Streubilder (or ‘Scatter Paintings’), which he devised in the first half of 1989, and which adroitly exemplifies the artist’s increased interest colour, shape, line, and brushstroke. Departing from his previous focus on human representation and the relationship between figure and ground, predominantly deployed through his signature image of the inverted figure, Baselitz began blending expressionist brushwork with a folkloric subject matter in the 1980s and 1990s, simultaneously incorporating an idiosyncratic checkerboard pattern which he had first developed in the late 1970s. Looming before the viewer in a larger-than-life scale, Kopf on Kopf II is an exquisite example of the German artist’s part-figurative, part-abstract series, which was notably included in his landmark solo exhibition travelling from the Kunsthaus Zürich to the Städische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, in 1990.

     

    A European Flair

     

    Marked by a scintillating resurgence of painting in critical and commercial spheres of the art world, the 1980s gave Baselitz a fresh sense of confidence that allowed him to create some of his best work – both through recycling old subject matters and devising new ones. Toward the end of the decade, the artist began moving away from the predominantly figurative content that had commanded his output a few years prior, and veering towards a more pointed investigation into the realm of abstraction. Exploring these novel pictorial parameters through the deployment of various geometric constructions, Baselitz’s Scatter Paintings embody the new approach that the artist took creatively, notably incorporating square tiles taking up large portions of the paintings’ surfaces. Coinciding with the artist’s series Ciao America – displaying a proliferation of upside-down birds – Baselitz’s Streubilder echoed the shift that was operating in the art world at the time, as European neo-expressionist work began garnering more attention, and American production resultingly receded into the background. Kopf an Kopf II symbolises this shift perfectly: it eludes the cooler, conceptual approach that American artists took on, and instead boasts distinctly European traits, namely a primitivist, expressionist brushwork that became indissociable from Baselitz’s overall aesthetic.

     

    Piet Mondrian, Victory Boogie Woogie, 1944, oil on canvas, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Image: Bridgeman Images.
    Piet Mondrian, Victory Boogie Woogie, 1944, oil on canvas, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Image: Bridgeman Images.

    Baselitz’s Geometric Abstraction

     

    At once formulaic and elusive, figurative and abstract, Kopf an Kopf incorporates a number of visual elements that resonate with various categories and genres that defined the history of painting in modern times. Characterised by a unique all-over style, Kopf an Kopf II is notably reminiscent of Jackson Pollock and de Kooning’s expressionist compositions, as well as Philip Guston’s work of the 1950s, in its passages of textured abstraction. Additionally, the composition’s checkerboard pattern echoes the grid structure with which Piet Mondrian constructed his De Stijl compositions; specifically his Victory Boogie Woogie from 1944, which similarly distributes variously sized blocks of colour serendipitously across the canvas. Quoting painterly predecessors whilst constructing an entirely new visual language, Baselitz became a reference within the canon of contemporary painting, cementing his status as one of the foremost artists of his time.

     

    Baselitz Discussing His Career

     

     

    • Provenance

      Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
      Hester Van Royen
      Private Collection, Dublin
      Galerie Haas, Berlin
      Michael Werner Gallery, New York and London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Kunsthaus Zurich; Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle, Georg Baselitz, 22 May – 9 September 1990, no. 73 (illustrated, p. 159)
      Cologne, Galerie Michael Werner, Accrochage, 23 July – 15 August 1993
      Berlin, Kontorhaus Spittelmarkt, Michael Fuchs Galerie, Kunstwert, 8 September – 15 October 1994 (illustrated, p. 17)
      Shanghai, Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Silent Power: Georg Baselitz, Jörg Immendorff, Markus Lüpertz, A.R. Penck, 17 March – 11 May 2006, no. 8 (illustrated, p. 33)
      Cologne, Michael Werner Kunsthandel, Georg Baselitz, 22 April – 17 July 2010
      London, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Georg Baselitz. A Focus On the 1980s, 2 October – 21 November 2018

    • Artist Biography

      Georg Baselitz

      Enthusiastically disruptive and perennially iconoclastic, Georg Baselitz stands out as an artistic outlier among Germany’s impressive roster of postwar artmakers. Born in the former German Democratic Republic and expelled from his East German art school for “sociopolitical immaturity,” Baselitz retreated to the West and quickly became known for creatively challenging widespread artistic conventions by painting in a violent and energetic form of representation in gleeful defiance of the prevailing abstract tendencies of the avant-garde following World War II. Baselitz, favoring figuration, painted caustic portraits and kinetic landscapes in the tradition of the German Expressionists before literally upending his practice in the late 1960s by painting upside-down, creating a disarming pseudo-abstract effect that emphasizes surface over substance.

      Baselitz’s work has been widely celebrated for its unapologetic and unconventional innovation as well as for its occasionally confrontational subject matter. Baselitz’s critical breakthrough came in 1963 with the debut of the unabashedly outrageous painting Die groβe Nacht im Eimer, currently in the collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, which immediately attracted the attention of the German media and judicial system. This work, and others, set the tone for a long and celebrated career of convention-shattering paintings, prints, and sculptures that are at once stylistically innovative and deferential to the German artistic tradition. Today, Baselitz’s work can be found in major institutions worldwide such as the Museum Ludwig and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

       
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Kopf an Kopf II

signed with the artist's initials and dated ‘GB. 18.IV.89’ lower left; further signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘G.Baselitz .7.II.89 + 18.IV.89 .Kopf an Kopf II’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
250 x 200 cm (98 3/8 x 78 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1989.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £705,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020