"GEORG BASELITZ: PAINTER," a brilliantly installed exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, is a real stunner--it's a pity it is not traveling to the United States. Cannily positioning older works beside newer ones, the show brings to light the cyclical nature of Baselitz's working process, one that doubles back on itself, and persistently questions the possibilities afforded by the genres, styles, and motifs of painting. It also makes clear that more than merely turning painting on its head, the artist has been attempting to redefine the genre's borders since the early 1960s.
The show commences with an unconventional image, Portrat mit Untermieter (Portrait with Subtenant), 1997, which is actually a double self-portrait employing two introspective gestures: In one picture, the artist's head rests lightly on a fingertip as though he is pondering; in the other, his knuckles scratch his head as if he is trying to recall something. Such a representation suggests that the subtenant of the title is actually the doppelganger of memory, impressions that refuse to be dislodged. Moving into the exhibition, the viewer encounters the eleven extraordinary "P. D. Fusse" (P. D. Feet) paintings of 1960-63, which constitute the first large series of work Baselitz produced. The tortured appendages isolated in these powerful pictures suggest a violent uprooting of sorts, one that mirrors the experiences of the artist, who was forced to leave the former East Germany (DDR) in 1957, having been judged "politically immature" by his professors at the Academy for Fine and Applied Arts in East Berlin.
These vivid initial moments of the show point to one of the great themes of Baselitz's work: the idea of homeland and the struggle to represent it in paint. Oddly enough, the scope of this subject has scarcely been recognized by Baselitz's critics. And yet this exhibition leaves no doubt that Baselitz continuously navigates the maze of aesthetic, sociopolitical, and personal histories that shaped his emergence as an artist in postwar Germany. If the "P. D. Feet" paintings can be said to have an ancestor, it might be Der Fuss des Kunstlers (The Artist's Foot), made in 1876 by Adolph Menzel, who by then had become the best-known north German historical painter. The presence of history is also felt in Portrait with Subtenant, which emerged partly in response to Baselitz's examination in 1995 of files that the former East German secret police (Stasi) had compiled about his final year in the DDR.
Not far from the entrance to the show is Baselitz's masterful Blick aus dem Fenster (View Out the Window), 1982, in which an alert, profiled face stares out of a porthole. Apparently the "view" afforded by this aperture is something not visible to the intent red-rimmed eyes: There is no landscape or thing to be seen in the outside world, but instead merely a painted white void. Further works draw attention to other self-reflective moments, suggested by motifs not typically associated with "high art"--take for example the dogs, and even the cowboys, that populate several canvases. …