Just give me art, lots of art, lots of starry nights and oh – Martin Kippenberger. He produced lots of art, and lots of it is now at MOMA through May 11 (The Problem Perspective). New York Magazine calls him “the artist who did everything.” When I was growing up in Lexington, KY, there were no museums to go to, no Kippenbergers to see, but I drew my own responses to the world around me: a smiley Jesus on the cross (religion), birds nesting (nature), a horse being sick at both ends (societal awareness). So I recognize a kindred spirit in Kippenberger, who came up with even better, more skewed responses: Fred the Frog crucified, a fake birch forest littered with uppers and downers, and Santa’s evil twin, Knecht Ruprecht.
Kippenberger worked fast and loose and prolifically, embracing most of the media and forms of visual art extant at the time. Too bad that digital art forms were then just in their infancy. Wall text at MOMA speaks of his “itinerant sensibility,” and the recent reviews of the show in Art in America, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and John Perreault’s Artopia blog, all place him in the context of post-war German art. He out-did Richter, faced down Beuys, and made fun of Picasso (I know, Picasso’s not German, but he was there to be called on the Teppich).
And yet, Kippenberger himself was German in his expression, and never more so than as an incredibly accomplished painter and draftsman. He refers to or anticipates most of contemporary painting, without losing himself in the process. In addition to stabs at Richter, Beuys and Polke, I found correspondances to Hockney and Wegman, and reminders of Francis Bacon. There is a beautiful series of watercolors featuring a magnifying glass, and a range of drawings on hotel stationery, done over the years, that make political and social points. In the end, at the end of his life, he did a group of drawings and paintings based on Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. They are baroque in their intensity and outdo Gericault in their existential horror. Texts on two of the paintings announce “Je suis meduse” and “The End.” And so, in both cases, it was.