Magazine article The Spectator

Impresario or Artist?

Magazine article The Spectator

Impresario or Artist?

Article excerpt

Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) Tate Modern, until 7 May

Right from the start of this retrospective exhibition, the complications set in. In Room 1 are four paintings from the 1981 series 'Dear painter, paint for me'.

One of them strikingly depicts a figure (presumably the artist? ) seated on a black sofa placed out in the street and surrounded by black plastic rubbish bags. The painting has the air of a snapshot, and you begin to think, so Kippenberger was into photorealism? But, no, we soon learn from a handy wall panel that Kippenberger didn't paint these pictures himself, but hired a Berlin sign painter, Mr Werner, to do them for him. Does this make them less/more/just as interesting? While you are pondering the possible significance of this and, at the same time, perusing a mad toy dog done in grisaille by the same Mr Werner, it might be better just to relax and let the images wash over you. After all, Kippenberger was far more interested in the totality of an exhibition (or, come to that, of a career) than in individual art works.

The next section of the same room has the first in a series of replica 'naughty boy' sculptures called 'Martin, Into the Corner, You Should be Ashamed of Yourself'.

Here the artist pretends to be self-chastising after the showing of a somewhat controversial abstract painting provocatively entitled 'With the Best Will in the World, I Can't See a Swastika'. This particular clothed figure is carved from wood; the two other versions in the exhibition are in mixed media, resin and latex. Nearby is a sequence of 21 small canvases, collectively called 'Pale with Envy, He Stands Outside Your Door' (do you get the impression that Kippenberger enjoys his titles? ).

These are painted by the man himself, but in a potentially bewildering variety of pastiche styles -- abstract, figurative, old, new, ludicrous. The titles are equally whacky: 'Suicidal Oil Piglet' is one, 'The Asexual Saltcellar' another.

Move into the next room, a large space with a cabinet of Kippenberger publications down the middle. This is in more ways than one the backbone of this gallery.

The book or catalogue of a show was often more important for this artist than the show itself -- in much the same way as the show was more important than the works exhibited. Pay heed, then, to the graphic Kippenberger, but don't ignore the 22 same-sized paintings round the walls.

These are some of the finest in the exhibition, once again richly varied in imagery and style. They do indicate that Kippenberger could really paint when he wanted to -- provided they weren't secretly carried out by an assistant, that is. In one, called '2nd Prize', rolled oats have been incorporated into the paint in satirical reference to Kiefer and Schnabel.

Another consists of beguilingly scribbled and geometric shapes with collaged signs, and is called 'Jeans against Fashism' (sic).

One of the most pleasing is the abstract architectural 'Supplementary Proposal for a Monument Against False Economies'.

Elsewhere, socialist realism gets a look-in.

The versatility is remarkable.

Room 3 features seven polystyrene sculptures with Hepworth/Moore holes, wittily called 'Hunger Family', and a group of works related to Joseph Beuys, including a couple of rather good paintings with Beuys multiples stuck on them. …

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