Heavy Burschi (Heavy Guy) 1991 brings together many of the defining themes of Kippenberger’s practice, both in terms of media and its process of production. Kippenberger asked an assistant to make paintings based on images from all his catalogues, but he was unsatisfied with the finished canvases. He ordered all fifty-one paintings to be destroyed, but first had each photographed, reprinted to its original size and framed, exhibiting them together, with the remnants of the paintings in a skip, as a single installation.
Kippenberger plays with the idea that an artist is an isolated individual who makes autonomous objects. He frequently used assistants, but his decision to destroy these paintings throws the question of authorship into sharp relief. Even though the canvases were only produced on his instructions, they were still the result of someone else’s labour, making their destruction a vivid demonstration of the relations between employer and employee.
Kippenberger’s actions echo the heroic gestures of destruction and renewal that run throughout Modernism, particularly in the work of post-war German artists such as Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer. With his familiar barbed irony, however, Kippenberger’s gesture is anything but an affirmation of the redemptive power of the artist. Heavy Burschi exposes the violence inherent in acts of destruction, emptying the gesture of its heroic connotations of cultural, political and spiritual rebirth. Instead of destroying the present to create a new future, Kippenberger creates a feedback loop. He destroys the paintings only to show copies of them, which then become yet another series of unique works, transforming the pictures, in his own description, ‘into a kind of double kitsch’.
Texts by Jessica Morgan, Ben Borthwick and Craig Burnett