Georg Is Great - If You Ignore His Last 27 Years; This Way Up ... Baselitz's 1999 Oil Painting, Armenian Carpet (Aslamazyan), Is a Typical Upside-Down Creation
Byline: Philip Hensher
Georg Baselitz Royal Academy, London until December 9 ***
The German artist Georg Baselitz is famous for one thing: producing paintingswhich look as though they're hung the wrong way up. He is a terrible headachefor sub-editors across the world, since almost every time a newspaper printsone of his paintings, someone decides to put it the right way up at the lastmoment.
The Royal Academy's extensive exhibition shows, however, that there's a greatdeal more to Baselitz than that. Sadly, he is very definitely one of thoseartists whose gigantic early talent fizzled out long ago; almost nothing fromthe last 20 years shown here is really worth looking at, and most of itconsists of hasty repetitions of celebrated moments from Baselitz's earliercareer.
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery, however, as Jane Austen said. If thelater Baselitz is the producer of expensive trifles for the international artmarket, the young Baselitz was a painter of dreams and shameless power.
Before he hit on the upside-down idea, Baselitz was notorious as a furiouslyexpressionist painter of obscene tableaux, and his mid-Sixties shows wereoccasionally raided by the police. Some of these paintings can't be describedin detail, let alone reproduced, but they have tremendous strength. One, calledBig Night Down The Drain, has a hideously embarrassing quality; anotherportrays the Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel imagined doing something quiteunspeakable.
The best and most famous of these early paintings is Oberon. In it, a group ofextraordinary, pale, snake-like heads group round the edge of the canvas,half-lit in a ghastly greenish tint, peering out at the observer. I have noidea what it means, but it seems like the direct transcription of a dream; Ialways think of it representing a horrifying family of near-identical freaks,as seen by a new-born baby looking up from his crib. …