Thursday, March 19, 2009

Art: MoMa: Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective

"The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika'" (1994)

"We don't have problems with mozzarella and basilikum, because we pay back with mousse au chocolat!"- Kippenberger

Martin Kippenberger is widely known as the preeminent contemporary German artist who lived a life of immense excess: alcohol, drugs, art production and culture consumption and, as a consequence died tragically young. His work lives and breathes a sense of over-drive fueled by themes of failure, absurdity, humor, and social critic captured with such conceptual finesse. The Problem Perspective, Kippenberger's appropriately titled retrospective at the Moma, brilliantly explores the artist's complex views on pop-culture, the material-world and society through a lens of his vast cache of works and accomplishments. Of course, much like Andy Warhol, the extraordinary amount of art that Kippenberger produced was not so much impudence (such as a rusting Ford Capri on display-- can this really be art?) as pushing the limits of what he could get away with.

Absurdity and humor are paramount to Kippenberger. In a series of declarations, titled "No Problem" (co-written with Oehlen,) the artist explores the paradoxical world of "problems" created by our faulty society. He proclaims in this manifesto, among other things: "We don't have problems with shoe cleaners, we step in shit." Or, "We don't have problems with fools, because they speak our language." Hand in hand with this witty world view, Kippenberger was keenly aware of social hierarchies and ranks that pester society. In his largest installation featured at the Moma, "The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika'" (1994) Kippenberger set up a series of random seats and desks--the kind of treasures and trash that one would find at a flea market or a trash dump. The functional objects are positioned on a vast green field, a football field of sorts, and we the audience are to sit on the bleachers watching the motionless spectacle of opponenets confronting each other while 'Funky Town' a 1980's Lipps Inc. single blares on the TV. (You've all heard it before: "Well, I talk about it/ Talk about it/Talk about it/Talk about it/Talk about,/Talk about/Talk about movin.") The piece reflects society as well as the system that define and structure social relations: this is a competitive match between the functional yet shabby flea market treasures, against the highly impractical design conscious seating. It is a rivalry and a struggle between the two layers of society: rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged, as denoted by what we sit on.

Failure is another theme that Kippenberger explores in his work. "The House with Slits" depicts a series of three modern, architectural structures. Each canvas depicts a different 'institution'-- The Betty Ford Clinic-- for the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse, Stammhein,-- a German high security prison and the Jewish Elementary School . The structures are failures in many respects, two obvious ones: they are failures as architectural oeuvres and failures of Utopian ideals on discipline and punish. Foucault anyone?

"Every picture I see belongs to me the instant I understand it," Kippenberger once said and his art, in its rudimentary form seeks to challenge notions of authorship and originality. In the series "Dear Painter, Paint for Me" (1981), the artist hired the sign painter, Mr. Werner, who is credited for actually painting the works of art. This series, depicts Kippenberger in a performance; here the artist as actor, as impersonator, as (once again) humorist shines through. The recurring motif of a deluded fried egg finds its way into many of his works. Always "sunny-side-up," the egg acts as Kippenberger's alter ego-- supposedly he used the egg only because, "Warhol already had the banana."

Dear Painter, Paint for Me" (1981)

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