Martin Kippenberger The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika' 1994

Martin Kippenberger
The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika' 1994 (detail
Estate Martin Kippenberger

Martin Kippenberger was among the most influential artists of the last thirty years, producing a remarkable body of work between the mid-1970s and his death, aged only 44, in 1997. His immense output drew upon popular culture, art, architecture, music, politics and history, as well as countless stories and events prompted by his own nomadic life. Everything he encountered along his travels to Italy, Brazil and the United States, not to mention different cities in his native Germany and many other places, could become subject matter for his art. Kippenberger’s wide-ranging approach manifests itself in an exceptionally prolific output, from paintings, objects, installations and multiples to books, posters and cards. Many of these works have a cutting political or social edge but, above all, they are characterised by a prodigious wit, with roots in his persona as a flamboyant performer and communicator.

He was, however, an artist driven by ideas. He was deeply engaged with the critical tendency in art that emerged around 1970, a trend that favoured institutional critique, site-specificity and process-based work rather than the creation of isolated paintings and sculptures. This exhibition, the first major retrospective of his work in the UK, draws not only on Kippenberger’s work but also on his thinking as an exhibition maker, bringing together material and ideas that he used when curating his own work.

Through his multifaceted output, Kippenberger developed an image of the artist distinct from the Romantic cliché of the visionary who creates meaning through a succession of masterpieces. Amid the transcendental ambitions of German art and culture in the 1980s, he was not afraid to operate within the more matter-of-fact world of daily life and the art market. His work dealt directly with the essentials of the everyday: Rent Electricity Gas, to quote the title of his first museum exhibition. In the spirit of ‘one of you, amongst you, with you’, a phrase he used on one of his posters, this exhibition presents a body of work that characterises art as a social system, and webs of communication as the basis of human existence.

The exhibition is curated by Jessica Morgan, Curator, Contemporary Art, Tate Modern and Doris Krystof, Curator, K21, Dusseldorf. Tate Modern’s presentation was assisted by Ben Borthwick, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.