Martin Kippenberger - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Video


    "It's about the futility and the endlessness of war." Henry Allsopp, Senior Specialist and Director of Contemporary Art explains why Martin Kippenberger's Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked), 1991 is one of the most monumental paintings in the series. "Kippenberger is not an easy artist to pigeon hole... now is really the moment where people are starting to see what a very important artist he is."

  • Provenance

    Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Munich, Malen ist Wahlen, Kunstverein Munich, 15 July - 13 September 1992
    Geneva, Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Martin Kippenberger, Respektive 1997 - 1976, February - September 1997, then travelled to Turin, Castello di Rivoli, Museo d'arte contemporanea (10 February - 13 April 1998)
    Deurle, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Martin Kippenberger, 22 April - 10 June 2007
    New York, Greene Naftali Gallery and Matthew Marks Gallery, Painting: Now and Forever, Part II, 3 July - 15 August 2008

  • Literature

    Malen ist Wahlen, exh. cat., Kunstverein Munich, Munich, 1992, no. 55 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    What is real and what is not has always been a moot question with respect to the work of Martin Kippenberger, a burning star of the art world whose time upon the earth was at once too short and too full. Kippenberger’s work ranged from painting to sculpture, to lush colours, thick layers of pigment and the drawings of the elemental figures of humour, irony, and satire that infused his work. All in all, by the time he died in 1997, Kippenberger amassed an oeuvre so diverse in its myriad styles that he remains one of the most enigmatically unclassifiable artists of all time; a true wunderkind of talent whose star shone far too brightly to age with ignominy. His later work, including the present lot, Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked), 1991, finds him revisiting and fusing themes from his earlier work—a perfect encapsulation of the artistic life he strove so strongly to achieve. We would be remiss not to mention the overarching influence of Sigmar Polke upon Kippenberger’s diverse body of work. The shared anxiety of Polke and Kippenberger with regard to their West German home, so close to the neighbouring Communist GDR, represents a fracture in perspective in both of their paintings; it is almost as if two powers are at work—the will to be authentic, and the tendency to satirise, to ironise, as if being watched from afar.

    But, ideally, this overwhelming anxiety would eventually culminate in what Kippenberger termed ‘the interesting picture’: a thematically loaded canvas that was also fascinating to behold, which possessed an element of danger, humour, or irreverence. Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked) came at a time when creating the ‘interesting picture’ was an old habit of Kippenberger’s. Kippenberger decided to make art using his own existing pieces—essentially employing his own works as the subject then transforming them into marvels of self-reflection and self-discovery. Drawing upon several of his existing painterly motifs, Kippenberger presents us with a picture in Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked) that possesses multiple facets of excellence, from its formal technique to its figural richness, mood and use of chromatic contrast. The impressive scope of the picture, which spreads roughly ten feet in width, is the first gesture in Kippenberger’s quest to immerse the viewer within the boundaries of the painting. The darkly shaded blues of the background image are at once monochromatic yet mesmerisingly varied in their saturation—unifying yet fascinatingly unstable. Kippenberger goes so far as to divide his background visage into four distinct quadrants of colour, each a study in mood and hue. At the upper-left, the most monochromatic quadrant of the four possesses an heir of regal reliability—immovable and solid. Yet to its right, swaths of light blue scattered atop a lighter quadrant make for a space full of movement. Proceeding downward, dominated by the figures painted upon them, Kippenberger’s lower two quadrants are partially hidden, but exhibit a softer azure on the left and, to the right, a shade consistent with its domineering diagonal cousin.

    Yet the figural richness inherent is the greatest attraction in Kippenberger’s canvas. Two distinct sets of figures are present: one painted in the blue shades of the background, and the other an electric sprawl of bright yellow spray paint, almost as if Kippenberger wanted to prove to us that he wasn’t afraid to deface his own work. The layer of blue figurines exhibits a familiar scene in Kippenberger’s work: a gnome figure stands atop the front of a cartoonish tank, raising his hand as if to support or otherwise push the gun barrel away from its intended target. Dwarfed atop the enormous war machine, the dwarf’s age and beard closely resemble traditional dress of Eastern countries, as if Kippenberger were trying to tell us that the grudges of the past have begotten the war of the present. It is almost as if the entire scene were taking place on a moonlit sea, the metaphorical implications of war a remote battle from our own perspective. To the left and right of the lone figure, faint sketches of a darker shade seem to hint at movement, the gnome moving stealthily amidst the night.But while Kippenberger’s background picture is richer in figure, his foreground is where the greater part of his artistic innovation occurs. With an almost vandalistic hand, Kippenberger scrawls a new gun barrel atop his tank, complete with the gnome’s ghostly figure pushing it up. He also adds two hitherto unforeseen details to his painting’s narrative: the acronym ‘USW’ (ETC in German) and an alien flying saucer above. While we could search for direct correlative meanings to these additions, it is more than likely that Kippenberger is exercising his modifications in a spirit of enfant terribles-esque mischief, his own canvas a fertile battleground for his continuing whimsical expression.

    Examining the artist’s own creative history helps to illuminate the wealth of imagery in Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked). Among his other canvases depicting war and violence with the artists's quintessential irony, it is Krieg Bose, 1983 that exhibits the greatest similarity to the present lot. Beginning a decade earlier, Kippenberger had already begun to concentrate on the rot and moral decay literalised in the melting of his figurines, specifically in the heavily oxidised tank. In Krieg Bose, 1983, we find two metaphors that are instrumental in helping us understand what Kippenberger hoped to achieve with his work throughout his career: the gnome, in its diminished stature and contorted posture, represented the artist himself in an attempt to control the forces of history. Yet, simultaneously, the tank is a stand-in for Kippenberger’s work, a force unwilling to stop its own advancement: ‘Krieg böse (War Wicked), a key series of paintings from 1983, show a gnomelike figure with a prickly beard and Father Christmas outfit on the front deck of a large, terrifying tank. The image—a perfect impasse—is as silly as it's simple, the allegory a tart thesis on where the artist stood. Kippenberger sought nothing more than for his art to abide and he to abide in the world, unimpeded and unharmed, as both tank and gnome.’ (‘Bones’ Beat: Martin Kippenberger at MoMA,’ The Village Voice, March 5, 2009)

    Yet for all the surrogate power of the gnome, Kippenberger often relied more heavily upon another stand-in for himself in his work: he employed the egg as a playful parody in his paintings and sculptures making indirect references to rebirth, reproduction, and the ideal of the circle. In doing so, he created the Eggman, an alter-ego that springs up in its own attempts to position itself within the fateful movements of the world, such as in Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1991-92. Here, the fullness of colour in Kippenberger’s palette is at direct odds with the ghostly presence of multiple forms in the present lot. Kippenberger’s role was not just that of a mischief-maker, a jester, a gnome, an eggman, but rather that of a guide, uncovering meaning where none had been before: ‘The boundaries between art and life, public and private, were not so much traversed in Kippenberger’s enterprise as they were destabilized through his embrace of their contradictions. That instability is fundamental to his challenge to the spectator. To encounter a work by Kippenberger is to experience the discomfort and embarrassment of getting too close, of knowing more than one would wishes 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) In Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked) Kippenberger revisits a past ‘interesting picture’ in order to keep it interesting—to reload it with the symbolic worth. It is this conscientious pursuit that makes Kippenberger’s later years so bittersweet and brilliant—the fusion of the many tropes of a style-less artist’s work, bound inextricably to each other in a realm above the rest.


Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked)

oil, spray paint on canvas
250.2 x 300 cm (98 1/2 x 118 1/8 in.)

£700,000 - 1,000,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £782,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm