Georg Baselitz Talks to Pamela Kort. ('80S Then)
PAMELA KORT: When you think back to the '80s, what comes to the surface for you?
GEORG BASELITZ: I'd like to talk about my relationship with America. It began in 1980. I showed a sculpture at the Venice Biennale, in the German pavilion with Anselm Kiefer. Shortly thereafter, Ileana Sonnabend sent me a letter, which was the first correspondence I had ever received from America. Within a week I got another letter, this time from Xavier Fourcade. Both gallerists offered me exhibitions. Their offers were totally unexpected; I didn't think that there was an interest in German art in America. So Michael Werner and I talked about it. Two invitations at once, how could one choose? I decided I would show new paintings in both galleries--including Die Madchen von Olmo [The Girls from Olmo, 1981], "Orangenesser" [Orange--eater, 1981], and "Trinker" [Drinker, 1981] at Fourcade and "Adler" [Eagle, 1981-82] and "Frau am Strand" [Woman on the beach, 1981-82] at Sonnabend. Both gallerists wanted me to show with them again. The second time, Sonnabend decided to exhibit my recent sculpture. Fourcade, howev er, was more interested in educating an American public about what I had done over the past twenty years, so he mounted a kind of retrospective that included my "Helden" [Heroes] paintings from the 1960s.
PK: How were the shows received?
GB: The reception was tremendous. Many paintings sold, to an extent they hadn't yet in Europe. I got the impression that in America everything was much easier and that my problems were gone.
PK: What kind of problems?
GB: Working as an artist in Europe and especially in Germany, you have to react to what society demands of you. I experienced this on the occasion of my first one man show, at Galerie Werner & Katz in 1963 in Berlin. My paintings Die grosse Nacht im Fimer [The Big night down the drain, 1962-63] and Der Nackte Mann [The naked man, 1962] were confiscated by the district attorney on charges of public indecency. It was not until 1965 that the judicial process ended and the works were returned. Compared with this, America seemed to me completely open and free of ideological pressures.
PK: Were you Inspired by American art even before you started showing there?
GB: In 1958, when I was a student at the Art Academy in West Berlin, Alfred Barr mounted a huge exhibition of Abstract Expressionist work called "New American Painting." We'd been adherents of the School of Paris, but this show blotted out that influence and surpassed it.
PK: When was your first actual contact with young American painters?
GB: I met Julian Schnabel in London in 1981, during the installation of "A New Spirit in Painting," at the Royal Academy of Arts. Julian was very well informed about European art and my work. That astonished me. I began to believe that maybe there was genuine interest in America about recent developments in German painting. But looming in the back of my mind was Joseph Beuys's failure to attain the accolades he deserved on the occasion of his 1979 retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York.
PK: In the American press Beuys's work was connected with the expressionist tradition. Were you concerned that a similar rubric would be used to describe your work?
GB: I always rejected any connection with the expressionist or neo-expressionist tradition. Unlike the expressionists, I have never been interested in renewing the world through the vehicle of art. Nevertheless, when you step back and consider my post-1980 work, there is no doubt that it has a relationship to paintings by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde. These works represent my reaction to expressionist art during the '80s, when the theme of expressionism came to the fore in America.
PK: Would it be correct to say that one of your greatest paintings, Der Bruckechor [The Brucke chorus, 1983], was inspired by the reception of German art in America? …