"Larry Flynt (The Anarchist's Choice), Mephitic Millowitsch, Martin Kippenberger, 1984
Thank the art gods Martin Kippenberger was a terror. His paintings and drawings at PAM (on view until February 19) relay an enfant terrible at his finest, mocking and menacing, a salty and ingratiated middle finger raised to the art world like a lighthouse, relieving it of its oft undeserved reputation of pretension and infinite rhetorical wormholes. Martin Kippenberger's notorious irreverence became an ironic beacon as he repeatedly reinvigorated his ouevre with a self directed disdain and a social, political, and cultural exasperation. He was a "bad painter" before the term was coined. His experimentation proved inexhaustible, and as he poked loaded fun at himself and, well, everything, he searched desperately for formal remedies with which to satiate his longings for meaning and provocation.
The tiny collection of pieces at PAM are barely a taste of Kippenberger's expansive portfolio, yet even these bits relay his refreshing imagination. They are hideous yet beautiful, painted in the spectrum of a cynic's rainbow. Walking into the gallery is like drinking vinegar after excessive sugar consumption; all of a sudden the senses are alive and awake as form becomes vocal and emotive. There is nothing silent about Kippenberger's work, rather he delivers his intentions in a screaming joke. The paintings are replete with an algorithm of cryptic allusions that makes for an infinite number of original pictures. Kippenberger's work is reassuring in the sense that he makes you feel as if there was someone keeping the fascists (and everybody else) in check, and he often does it with a self portrait.
His seemingly random juxtapositions are reminiscent of German advertising and a specific color palette. The images are raucous, cackling and scolding even as they sob. For Kippenberger, there was not time for saccharine subtleties; in his brief twenty year career, he ran through the possibilities of making and thinking with a tangible and acrid urgency, as if he could sense the increasing proximity of his ever approaching, premature death (the artist died of liver cancer in 1997, at the age of 43).
Kippenberger's genius was multi-faceted; his retrospective at MOMA in 2009 was considered a tour de force. Yet even as we encounter a frightening number of images in any given day, Kippenberger's painting continues to remind the world of the possibilities of picture making. Beauty is found in the work's raw pathos and the ironic sincerity of marks that are meant to be haphazard and flippant, yet are rendered by a hand much too skilled to execute anything truly poorly.
"UNO Gebaude Haus Per La Pax" (Detail), Martin Kippenberger, 1984
In the painting, "UNO Gebaude Haus Per La Pax" (U.N. Built House of Peace), the image is composed of these kinds of marks. Kippenberger divides the piece onto four canvases, and the symbolic building is rendered thus on and as an unstable structure. The silicon lines added to the canvas as part structure and part organic institutional decoration give the work a punk grossness that adds to Kippenberger's effusive disdain. Yet it is pure jazz in terms of edgy painterly prowess. The self portrait is a Kippenberger icon: the middle aged man, his fists raised above his paunch in some sort of masculine show even though he looks as if he has already been beaten once, convincing no one of anything but perhaps resolved resignation.
Untitled (Self Portrait), Martin Kippenberger, 1988
Kippenberger did not cater. He did not hob knob or ass kiss; he was truly interested in what art could do and how he could go about making it do it. The five paintings at PAM are Kippenberger's signature oddity: an art formula whose sum does not equal its parts. Yet when the work is seen together, it creates a desired atmosphere of aggression and humor, disdain and despair; the combo portrait of Larry Flynt and Willy Millowitsch The sampling of his hotel drawings included in the room are those of a grown twelve year old; they sneak a satirist's sharp wit under the guise of a lackadaisical doodle. (See local Stumptown ad provocateur Tim Root) They are an old man's brilliant comic book designed to entertain, aesthetically German(think Georg Baselitz, Albert Oehlen (M.K.'s long time collaborator and friend),Sigmar Polke, and Neo Rauch) and yet waxing nostalgic. Kippenberger is the needed nightmare that awakens the eye and mind from a complacent sleep, the joke that sticks and rings in your memory.