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  • Mardee Goff

GEORG BASELITZ: A fierce madness, a wildness...




A fierce madness, a wildness... That’s the mark of an artist, actually, that they are very rebellious. And I was one of them myself.[i]



GEORG BASELITZ (b. 1938, Hans-Georg Kern in Deutschbaselitz, Saxony, Germany) is a German artist whose provocative Neo-expressionist work spans painting, sculpture, drawing, and printmaking. His chaotic upbringing amidst the destruction of World War II is evident throughout his oeuvre, with his violently idiosyncratic images reflecting the conflicts of postwar Germany as it sought a new identity. Influenced by both German and American Abstract Expressionism, Baselitz adopted a raw, exertive brushstroke and bold line, applying these techniques to representational forms rather than the extreme abstraction of his predecessors. Baselitz’s irregular representations of figures, animals, and scenes are bulky and quick-handed, creating a perceptible aggressiveness often paired with a contrary sneer. His first solo exhibition resulted in the removal of the painting Die große Nacht im Eimer (“Big Night Down the Drain”) (1962–63) under charges of obscenity, further contributing to his polarizing reputation.

 

In 1969, Baselitz began painting and displaying his pieces upside down to subvert the pictorial features of his work and expose the capricious nature of representation. This atypical orientation often gives the impression that figures are hanging or falling in his compositions, as in Weißer (2017). The inverted position of this piece, paired with its muted palette of white and grey, pushes the form of an eagle to the brink of abstraction. Laden with nationalistic context as the emblem of the Nazi regime, the eagle is a recurring motif throughout Baselitz's work. Appearing as early as 1953 and throughout the ensuing decades, the eagle has undergone an evolution from bold pigments and monochrome etchings to the ghostly erasure in Weißer. Each iteration is suspended or perhaps descending through the composition, reduced through gestural abstraction and allegorical importance. Inverted, the majestic creature falls into the abyss, its intrinsic glory fading into Weißer (“Whiter”). Barely distinguishable, the heroic symbol of the mighty bird is feverishly subsumed in a visceral mass of brushwork where glory is instead bestowed on the potency of the pigment and the debris of the eagle eulogized in the act of painting itself. If the eagle represents an alter-ego of the artist, a plausible suggestion made by others, then this is not merely a battle between mark-making and representational content, but, in fact, an open view of the internal struggles of an artist.

 

Baselitz’s Adler (“Eagle”) paintings represent a significant foundation of the artist’s practice. Examples of his Fingermalerei Adler paintings from the 1970s are held in the collections at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg, along with examples from 1982 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; Milwaukee Art Museum, among others. Baselitz has exhibited extensively, including at Kupferstichkabinett at Kunstmuseum Basel (1970); Venice Biennale (1980); Kunsthalle Zurich (1990); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1995); Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1996); Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk, Denmark (2006); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2007); Staatlichen Kunsthalle, Dresden (2009); and Helsinki Art Museum (2010). In 2015, the artist was featured at the German pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia, and in 2017–18, a large retrospective of Baselitz’s work was presented at the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland, and at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Georg Baselitz lives and works near Lake Ammersee, Germany, and in Imperia, Italy.


[i] Georg Baselitz, quoted in “Georg Baselitz: The Good Things Will Never Cause Anyone to Look,” The Talks (May 25, 2016), https://the-talks.com/interview/georg-baselitz/.

 

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