Although most of Kippenberger’s oeuvre tends toward the creation of a vast, interconnected artwork, The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ 1994 is unique in that it might be considered his masterwork and the culmination of his achievement. Based on Kafka’s novel Amerika, the installation re-imagines a section of the book when the protagonist Karl Rossmann, having travelled across America, applies for a job at the ‘biggest theatre in the world’. ‘Everybody is welcome!’ proclaims the call for employment, ‘Whoever wants to become an artist should sign up!’. Kafka never completed the novel, which he abandoned writing over ten years before it was posthumously published in 1927, and Kippenberger claimed that he never finished reading it, hearing the story second-hand from a friend. The unfinished condition of the book leaves open the possibility, unusual in Kafka’s fiction, for a ‘happy ending’.
The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ explores the fictional utopia of universal employment, adapting Kafka’s idea of communal job interviews into an artwork. Kippenberger described the situation depicted in his installation as ‘a circus in town, looking to employ reliable hands, helpers, doers, self-confident handlers and the like. Outside the circus tent, in my imagination, there would be tables and chairs set up for job interviews’. The installation consists of a diverse assortment of objects and furniture, assembled to suggest a playing field for conducting mass interviews. There are over 40 tables and twice as many chairs, from classics of twentieth-century design, such as chairs by Arne Jacobsen and Charles Eames, to worn-out tables bought in flea markets, remnants of previous Kippenberger exhibitions, and even work by other artists.
The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ is Kippenberger’s most complex work, presenting the viewer with an overabundance of possible meanings. At one level, the installation refers to the competition between artists and constant judgements within the art community. Yet the variety of furniture also suggests a range of personalities and psychological types, and the interview format reflects the artist’s belief in the fundamental importance of relationships and dialogues.