Tate Modern Level 4 East
8 February – 14 May 2006
The German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953–1997) produced a remarkably rich and diverse body of work, and once declared that he was the ultimate embodiment of the art of the 1980s. Over two hundred of his works have been brought together for this major retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern, to present a new and revealing portrait of this maverick personality, who while widely known in Europe, has remained largely unfamiliar to British audiences until now. Most of the works in the exhibition have not been seen in the UK before, and several privately owned pieces very rarely seen in public are displayed. The exhibition, organised in collaboration with K21, Düsseldorf, provides a significant opportunity to consider Kippenberger as an artist and the influence he and his work has had, particularly for subsequent generations of British as well as European artists.
Like Andy Warhol, Kippenberger exposes the process of art production, the market and art world networks through his work and exhibitions. He draws on popular culture, art, architecture, music, politics, history, and his own life for inspiration. Often using original everyday objects and materials, and creating prolific numbers of multiples, books and ephemera, Kippenberger was in some respects working in the face of a perceived ‘death of painting’, the apparent end of the avant-garde and the impossibility of producing anything that was authentic or original.
The exhibition at Tate Modern consists of eight rooms and the display is largely chronological. A wide variety of works of different media are shown including around forty paintings, four large installations, ten sculptures, and over fifty works on paper, in addition to a selection of forty posters recently acquired by Tate. Kippenberger’s famous large-scale installation, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ 1994, last exhibited in the US in 2000 and never shown in the UK, will form the heart of the exhibition. This work features an arrangement of around forty tables and chairs placed on a reconstruction of a green carpeted soccer pitch. It can be read as the theatrical setting for the mass interviewing of prospective employees described by Franz Kafka in his posthumously published novel Amerika. The work itself contains examples of classic 20th-century furniture in addition to remnants from previous exhibitions, other artist’s work, and flea market acquisitions.
Taking The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ as the point of departure, the various strands of the exhibition will focus on Kippenberger as an exhibition-maker, an artist who was always thinking of the next body of work, its position, theme or statement, and display rather than of the individual objects. With Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear Painter, Paint for Me) 1981 and the Installation der Weißen Bilder (The Installation of The White Paintings) 1991, for example, Kippenberger’s idea of delegating the act of painting to others is demonstrated. Early works such as Bitte nicht nach Hause schicken (Please Don’t Send Me Home) 1983 are featured, and there is a room dedicated to over twenty paintings made between 1983 and 1996, all of which have the same dimensions (180 x 150 cm). The subjects of these range from socialist realism inspired themes such as Sympathische Kommunistin (Likeable Communist Woman) 1983 to more abstract works such as Muttergedächtnisstube (Shrine-to-Mother Room) 1985.
Kippenberger was born in Dortmund, Germany in 1953 and studied at the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg. In 1979 he had his first solo exhibition in Hamburg and major exhibitions include a survey exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1993) and most recently at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (2003). The exhibition is curated by Jessica Morgan, Curator, Contemporary Art, Tate and Doris Krystof, Curator, K21. It is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue which includes essays by the curators as well as the writer, and one of the sister’s of the artist, Susanne Kippenberger, and art historian Gregory Williams. The exhibition will travel to K21, Düsseldorf (10 June – 10 September 2006).