Edited by Doris Krystof and Jessica Morgan
With Susanne Kippenberger and Gregory Williams

Publication January 2006
245 x 205 mm
192 pp
130 colour and 20 black-and-white illustrations
ISBN 1 85437 620 9

Introduction to Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)

Doris Krystof and Jessica Morgan

To date there has not yet been a comprehensive Martin Kippenberger retrospective in either the UK or Germany. In view of this, Tate Modern and K21 have jointly developed the concept for a survey exhibition of Kippenberger’s complex oeuvre. One of the most significant and influential artists of his time, Kippenberger produced a remarkable and richly prolific body of work from the mid-1970s until his untimely death in 1997 at the age of forty-four.

At the heart of this exhibition is the famous yet rarely seen masterpiece, Kippenberger’s large-scale installation, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ 1994. This arrangement of around fifty tables and chairs placed on a green soccer field can be read as the theatrical setting for the mass interviewing of prospective employees described by Franz Kafka in his posthumously published novel, Amerika. Kippenberger’s installation materializes in furniture form only Kafka’s vision of the aspiring applicant and discouraging interviewer, separated by a table, while metaphorically presenting the artist’s life and work as one massive social sculpture formed through interaction and accumulation, and defying singular interpretation. The work itself contains not only examples of classic twentieth century furniture, but remnants from previous exhibitions, other artists’ work and flea market acquisitions.

Anticipating the later reception of his work, Kippenberger once declared that he was the ultimate embodiment of the art of the 1980s. His artistic thinking - drawing on Punk and New Wave, Neo-Expressionism and appropriation art - manifests itself in his extraordinarily prodigious output, from paintings, objects, installations and multiples to books, posters and cards. Kippenberger’s vast oeuvre draws on popular culture, art, architecture, music, politics and history, as well as his own life, where no subject was sacred. Many of these works deal mercilessly with political topics from the last decade of the Cold War; above all his works are characterised by their wit and powerful, Actionist elements, which have their roots in Kippenberger’s highly communicative, even performative personality. Since his sudden death abruptly halted his obsessive urge to produce, it has become increasingly clear to what extent ideas and concepts determined Kippenberger’s approach, and the degree to which he engaged with the critical-analytical impulses that emerged around 1970 such as institutional critique, site-specificity and process.

Taking this conceptual leaning in Kippenberger’s work, as well as The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ as the point of departure, the various strands of the exhibition reflect Kippenberger’s own selected exhibitions and themes. With Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear Painter Paint for Me) 1981, Heavy Burschi (Heavy Guy) 1991 and the Installation der Weissen Bilder (Installation of the White Paintings)1993, the spotlight turns to Kippenberger’s idea of delegating the act of painting to others.

Confrontation and exchange with other artistic positions, as well as different forms of collaboration, are very much the hallmarks of Kippenberger’s artistic praxis. In collaboration with visual artists such as Michael Krebber, Ulrich Strothjohann and Merlin Carpenter, but also with critics such as Diedrich Diederichsen and Jutta Koether, Kippenberger created a body of work which is itself a finely woven mesh of allusions and associations. For Kippenberger, art became an all-embracing life system. Establishing family and clan relationships served to demarcate and form his own identity in the artworld jungle of the prosperous 1980s, and the prevailing elaborate processes of inclusion and exclusion.

Given the constant artistic interpretation and processing of his own firsthand experiences, Kippenberger has all the attributes of a late twentieth-century figure. Through his elaborate biographic construction, he engages with the fault lines of his own persona in as much as he adopts a wide variety of roles. Kippenberger, who once referred to himself as a ‘salesman’, developed a completely new image of the artist, far-removed from the clichés of creating meaning and realising visions. Scattered through his work like leitmotifs, his themes revolve around finding a place for oneself, making contact and establishing position. In the face of the transcendental embellishments to art and culture that were flourishing in German art in the 1980s, Kippenberger created a distinctly anti-metaphysical body of work that adeptly operated within the very heart of the art business. His work articulated the essentials to life - Miete Strom Gas (Rent Electricity Gas), to quote the title of his first museum exhibition in 1986 - and the coyly modest wish that people might later mention that Kippenberger had been ‘good mood’.

Kippenberger’s outstanding artistic position and his profuse output, where visual opulence and lucid reflection go hand in hand, no doubt account for the many exhibitions of his work since his death. Over the years these exhibitions have variously focused on different genres or media, as in the exhibition of self-portraits at the Kunsthalle Basel and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg (1999), or the presentation of drawings at the Kunsthalle Tübingen (2003-4). Major exhibitions, notably in Karslruhe and Vienna/Eindhoven (all in 2003), have started to reflect the sheer wealth of the material and have set thematic accents, such as the significance of place in Kippenberger’s work. This exhibition, conceived for London and Düsseldorf on the basis of a specially selected overview of the work, is intended as a survey of the contents of the various forms of communication Kippenberger offered the viewer. In the spirit of his saying ‘one of you, among you, with you’ - which tripped so easily off his tongue in the early years - we see a body of work that defines art as a social system and communication as the basis of human existence.

The catalogue that accompanies this exhibition, with its slightly more detached, yet by no means unimpassioned, view of Kippenberger’s artistic approach, contains monographic and thematic texts. As well as two essays on the main works presented in the exhibition, there are another three very different contributions which fill out our picture of Kippenberger.

While the art historian Gregory Williams has written an analytical text, looking in from the outside, Susanne Kippenberger, a younger sister of the artist, explores a very personal connection. Lastly, to incorporate the original voice, the catalogue also includes a reprint of an interview with Martin Kippenberger just a year before his death. In it Kippenberger talks at length of The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ in a manner that explains why this large-scale installation, at the heart of the present exhibition, can rightly be regarded as the artist’s legacy to posterity.

© Tate Publishing