It is hard to believe that the first major survey in the United States of German artist Martin Kippenberger opened Sept. 21. ‘Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective’ is a vibrant collection of work on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.
There are more than 250 pieces of art in the exhibit that span from 1977 to 1997, encompassing a lifetime of work on display at both museum locations. The bi-location exhibit is on display until Jan. 5, 2009.
Born in Dortmund, Germany, in 1953 Kippenberger had a prolific 20-year career. In 1997, at the age of 44, Kippenberger died unexpectedly of liver cancer. Unlike many artists, who gain notoriety in death, Kippenberger led a life of reckless infamy.
Kippenberger was the product of a peculiar circumstance. Living in West Germany post-World War II, with the communist east bloc and the constant physical manifestation of the destruction of the war surrounding him, Kippenberger inhabited the socio-political tensions of the time.
Escaping the grim realities of the Berlin Wall, Kippenberger moved to Florence in 1976 and from there his travels rarely stopped. His adventures took him to Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin, Seville, Madrid, and Los Angeles. The art was always directly influenced by the different locales and the radical way they impacted Kippenberger.
Attempting to depict the personal as political and vice versa, Kippenberger’s art was as much a reflection of the artist himself as it was a case study of the political environment of the time, all done with his characteristic provocative sense of humor.
MOCA Senior curator Ann Goldstein is the curator of the Kippenberger exhibit. The multi-room exhibit is arranged chronologically, taking the audience on an exploration of the evolution of Kippenberger’s art. The title of the exhibit, ‘The Problem Perspective,’ is derived from an artwork done by Kippenberger.
‘The problem perspective. You are not the problem, it’s the problem-maker in your head,’ is the title of the 1986 oil on canvas painting that is part of the exhibit. The words are written in yellow, on the borders of the black background. In the center of the painting is an off-kilter white square, with balloon-like circles spilling form one another.
There are varying shades of gray and a reddish brown spilling throughout the painting, adding to the conscious effort of Kippenberger to create a different perspective for art.
A similar work of art is the oil on canvas painting form 1986 titled, ‘We don’t have problems with people who look exactly like us, because they get our pain.’ Both pieces are illustrative of Kippenberger’s keen sense of humor and wit.
A central preoccupation of his work included challenging the role of the artist and their work in society. Through humor and often self-deprecation, Kippenberger used his art as a vehicle for social commentary.
Kippenberger produced art through varying medium, including paintings, sculpture, installations, photographs and posters. The first room of the exhibit even includes an installation of Kippenberger’s interpretation of a German forest.
Scattered on the floor of the ‘forest’ are exaggerated prescription pills and alka seltzer tablets carved from wood. There is also a disco ball and lamps inhabiting the forest, a perfect example of the conceptual aspect of Kippenberger’s art.
Nearby there is a red car with its headlights on. The Ford ‘Capri’ model had been designed to appeal to the European market. This attempt by an American car company to make an Italian inspired model had failed miserably overseas. Kippenberger placed batches of oatmeal on the surface of the car and painted over them. This is a rather hilarious metaphor for that particular time in history.
In one of the last rooms of the exhibit, hanging innocently in the left corner is the sculpture, ‘First the Feet.’ It depicts the crucifixion of a toad, proving that Kippenberger never shied away from controversy, perhaps even courting it rather aggressively, always with a sense of humor and irony.