Martin Kippenberger - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of Albert Oehlen, Germany, acquired directly from the artist
    Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Madrid, Palacio de Velazquez, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Kippenberger: Pinturas, October 20, 2004 - January 10, 2005
    Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Martin Kippenberger, June 2 - September 30, 2009

  • Literature

    Kippenberger: Pinturas, exh. cat., Palacio de Velazquez, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2005, p. 128 (illustrated)
    Martin Kippenberger, exh. cat., Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich, 2009, no. 1, p. 1 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "...the stupidest things suddenly turned into something quite individual. It’s such a comic process. Always get to the heart of the matter, to things that are so close that you wouldn’t think of them. Like an egg, or that sort of thing, and mess about with that ... You don’t have to painstakingly pull things apart, discover something somewhere or other. Some things are never used up because there’s still so much in them" Martin Kippenberger

    “I drew my way through all the art books on the book shelves. That helped me to see things more clearly than if I'd just looked at the pictures.” Martin Kippenberger

    In Martin Kippenberger's widely varying work, which includes sculpture, painting, and collage, one finds so little consistent conventionality in his visual manifestations that it has befuddled art critics and observers alike, calling into question the very meaning of artistic creation. Kippenberger has deconstructed and reconstructed symbolic representation the way city planners rebuild war-torn neighborhoods, offering contemporary perspectives on new societies.

    The artist painted this iconic image of what first appears to be an alienating institutional structure in 1984, a year which is also the title of George Orwell’s book in which institutions play a defining role in reshaping the personalities of its characters. The mid 1980’s saw increased tensions between the superpwers during the second phase of the Cold War. Kippenberger’s life and travels in Berlin as well as in the United States exposed him to the propaganda emanating from institutions on both sides of the Berlin Wall. With an aesthetic, hyper-sensitivity, he witnessed firsthand the effects of this propaganda on the nation’s individuals.

    Below Kippenberger’s fiery Armageddon in the present lot, Untitled, 1984 lies a seemingly unassuming concrete building, formed by alternating light and dark patches of grey. Echoing the contemporary tenets of modernist architecture, this construction is none other than the Betty Ford Clinic, opened in 1982, just two years before Kippenberger’s painting was realized. Portrayed in a variety of geometrical shapes, Kippenberger upends the intentionally calming facets of the real-life alcohol and drug treatment center, turning each section into an interlocking piece of a nightmarish, metaphorical prison. Kippenberger manages to insert flourishes of flesh tones and yellow onto the walls of building, hinting at a building unduly aged by virtue of the emotional burden of addiction within, while referencing older and alienating buildings he grew up with in Germany: the post-war apartments in the west and the soviet-style bloc housing to the east.

    In what may first appear as a distinctly representational work, the present lot, Untitled, 1984, stirs with a psychological tension beneath the surface, fusing figurative and abstract expressionist styles. Here, we see a brilliant balancing act between communism and capitalism, the dominating two ideologies that sent many of its citizens to respective institutions of rehabilitation and reeducation. Like the two sides of the then divided Germany, like the fragmented self of the artist, and the fractured psyches in the clinic, this painting is divided into two canvases. The artist united the two canvases with a wooden support system, on top and on bottom, echoing the support system given to the broken lives inside the clinic, and their attempts to piece themselves back together.

    But Kippenberger’s surreal gestures do not stop there: on the path to the door of his construction, and above his marvelous blend of pavement and grass— alternating in shades of slate grey, pale green, and bright emerald—lie sublime curiosities: a tree reminiscent of a cypress tree dons a tear drop shaped lavender top, like an extinguished light bulb, harbingers of the intimidating feats of self-discipline, emotional self-flagellation. The shapes are also Kippenberger's signature egg-like symbols of rebirth--the ultimate goal of the institution and of art. In the background, as if to suggest the isolated means of communication within the building itself, Kippenberger—employing 3D silicon piping—darts telephone lines across the blazing sky, providing a false horizon that can be contrasted against his true vanishing mountainous one. This highlights the synthetic, plastic world of superficial communication on the outside, with the real, insulated communication echoing inside the institution’s walls.

    Kippenberger has fused eastern bloc and western bloc history and architecture. He uses the western styles of abstraction and expressionism with the style of Soviet Realisms to achieve this organic synthesis. The result is a mesmerizing, deeply layered work of brutal honesty, where the external anthropomorphic subject matches the vibrant emotional intensity of the world in which it resides. This fascination with institutions brimming with the psychological weight of their intended societal functions was a constant in Kippenberger’s work during this period. Other institutional and architectural subjects he painted include the U.N. Building-The Home of Peace, 1984, in which the United Nations becomes an Orwellian dysfunctional and unstable institution, and the fragmented Manhattan skyline in New York Zum Russich, 1985. He further explores other public locales such as prisons, schools and rehabilitation clinics in works like Three Houses with Slits now in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In another contemporaneous painting such as San Carciano (Hysterialand), 1984, Kippenberger sought to imbue various material institutions with the emotional life that they contained—a unique type of portraiture. He would later tackle the subject of the arena of war itself, parodying it with bright colors and humorous mascots, each intent upon humanizing the realm of an emotionally mechanized world.

    But the present lot offers an incisive perspective on the personal nature of the artist, namely due to the fact that Kippenberger’s personal life could possibly draw him to such a place where his habits of substance taking and way of life could be threatened. The Betty Ford rehabilitation center, full of celebrity and notoriety, presented both a target of criticism and a point of reflection for Kippenberger in the mid-1980s.
    But aside from Kippenberger’s personal connection to his subject matter, Untitled, 1984 provides us with a rare glimpse into Kippenberger’s wealth of visual influences, all the way from post-impressionism to the American Abstract Expressionists. In the lush and swirling brushstrokes of Kippenberger’s magenta tree, along with a graphic explosion of color in his sky, we find the work of a Van-Gogh-like hand, whose use of intentionally unrealistic brushwork allowed the chromatic life of his paintings to beget a wider emotional truth surrounding his subject matter. Just as Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 showcases the wild fire of emotional inherent in the vitality of the field against the darkness of the sky, so Kippenberger shows us a sky’s burning beauty against the bleakness of the center below. While Van Gogh paints from the inside of an institution, Kippenberger paints from the outside. But in Kippenberger’s post-modernist playbook, the blazing beauty above can possess quite a different connotation when compared to Edvard Munch’s 1894 masterpiece Anxiety, in which a crowd of petrified pedestrians stand ominously below a similar sky. The concept of anxiety runs throughout Kippenberger’s oeuvre, making subjects such as war and human confinement excellent visual fodder for his work.

    But while static anxiety—fear, dread, brooding paralysis—showed up consistently in his work as a German living just to the west of the Iron Curtain, Kippenberger himself was obsessed with the anxiety of historical and cultural artistic influence, personally testifying that originality in painting was beyond achieving. This led to his marvelous portraiture of the mundane, and the hidden banality of evil that can reside in such innocuous subject hood: “To encounter a work by Kippenberger is to experience the discomfort and embarrassment of getting too close, of knowing more than one would wish to know or admit, of confronting something that is banal and annoying, that dismisses received notions of right or wrong. His work is not simply about getting to the truth or unearthing dirty secrets, but about uncovering the mechanisms that produce meaning and the ways in which they define the role and position of the artist.”(A. Goldstein, ‘The Problem Perspective: Martin Kippenberger’, in exhibition catalogue, The Problem Perspective, Cambridge, 2008, p. 40) This is, of course, a facet of experience on full display in Untitled, 1984, in which we witness the transformation of a beneficent institution into one unworthy of our trust—a prison of the mind. This psychological state is the product of both the capitalist west and the Communist east; citizens of both societies are victims of their ideologies, addiction being the way in or out for some. Both systems have their rehabilitation and re-education centers, to help people fit into their respective societies.

    But the wide cast of Kippenberger’s net of influence leads us to those who find freedom in pure expression—where the absence of figuration is the most truthful of all. Clifford Styll’s Untitled, 1951-52 is one such canvas, in which the staining properties of his deep reds and maroons are an end in and of themselves. Kippenberger certainly draws from the wisdom of the American Abstract Expressionists, and Styll in particular, in his own visual feast, improvising the spectacular coloring of his background with artistic bravado, approaching the physicality and athleticism of what we might term “action painting.” The present lot is a superlative example of the conscientious artist: one who comprehends his place in art history yet triumphs time and time against the burden of stylistic categorization. While Untitled, 1984 is a foray into realism for Kippenberger, he ignites the emotional life of an institution with poignant fire, launching a material institution into the realm of expression and abstraction. The present lot is a perfect picture of artistic and emotional freedom: offering new perspectives on reality. Untitled, 1984 comes to represent Kippenberger’s quintessential manner of working, where the chains of style have been unshackled, and the weight of his message remains concrete.



oil, silicone on canvas
48 x 78 3/4 in. (121.9 x 200 cm)

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,345,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm