75 years of Baselitz , the broken romantic on tour at Stihl gallery Waiblingen

Baselitz, Portrait illustration,monotype

The German chainsaw producer Stihl established an art museum and gallery at their headquarter place Waiblingen, another midsize town in the Stuttgart region, south of Germany.

The museum looks like a plastic cake box. As you enter you notice that it is a cooling chamber with bad acoustics. The museum consists mainly of one big room divided by movable walls that create smaller compartments which are all open and connected with each other.
There was a guided tour as we started our visit and the voice of the guide echoed from all directions without a word to understand.

This Baselitz , broken romantic show seems to tour around in Germany, may be in whole of Europe. Same set of works from a private collection (GAG,Hamburg) had been shown in previous years at other locations already. It seems that the program of the Stihl gallery consists mainly of such travelling exhibitions and some own curating.

Next to the gallery is an art school. The gallery is very active in art mediation; there is always a program of lectures and other events parallel to the exhibits.

The Stihl gallery goes for renowned names and mainstream topics in the art world such as Rembrandt, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde or John Cage to name a few.
I have seen a number of exhibits and never was disappointed. The John Cage exhibition was remarkable, also the show on E.L.Kirchner and Rembrandt. The shows are usually very well documented.

The Baselitz show with a selection of his early works took us back to 1965 and the following years. The German post-war society enjoyed the Wirtschaftswunder consuming TV shows like the “golden shot” with guest stars like Old Shatterhand.

At the same time the whole thing was in fermentation, the Vietnam War began to dominate the daily evening news and the student revolt finally culminated in the RAF disaster.

Baselitz revolted against the DDR style of realist painting but found the post-war western abstract painting suspicious too.
“My problem was not to create anecdotal, descriptive pictures. On the other hand I found the foggy arbitrariness of abstract painting theory disgusting”,(Baselitz 1975, quote from the show translated).

So he had to create his own patch of territory in the art world and he chose the way of revolting and destruction or as some say intentional foul play. The debate whether his notorious “Große Nacht im Eimer” was a strategic marketing gag or a genuine artistic expression is still hot as glowing charcoal even with flickering flames here and there as I could see from an angry guestbook entry calling Baselitz a megalomanic con artist.
Here is the Spiegel magazine archive from 1964, the painting was sold for 7500 DM to an anonymous collector. The bold art dealers Werner and Katz who showed the work in Berlin were 25 years old.

Baselitz at that time was an angry young man with a big mouth, as he admits himself I believe. The nightly bucket was the starting point of a career, later Baselitz created his trademark by hanging his pictures upside down.

I own a number of publications on Baselitz and some of his books with own writing, including the famous pandemonium manifesto. Baselitz is not so much an analyst or intellectual rather than a pragmatic craftsmen. In one essay he explained that he knows only four categories of paintings, which I try to show in the simple graphic below.
four categoreis of paitings according to Baselitz
At no.1 you would have the worst possible combination at no.2 you have the best combination. Imagine a botanical painting, wonderfully executed, rich in detail but as so often with total lack of picture qualities. Where would you put that? I use this grid not to judge works of art, but to play with and trigger thoughts and questions on quality of paintings or drawings I look at.

The show with emphasis on graphic works started with small format etchings from 1964, expressive works in strong aggressive lines in denial of any academic conduct dedicated to a topic of the past the “romantic wanderer”. Those were a discovery and the most interesting pieces for me. The male figures created by Baselitz usually look more like He-man toys with misshapen bodies and limbs, anti-heros, the epic fail in self-reflection.
I particularly liked a series of etchings titled “A new type“, detailed etchings in “uneducated and unskilled” manner. Obviously Baselitz took great pains to avoid any pleasing look and by turning 180° from the pleasing he created still highly skilled and beautiful works.

There was also a pair of woodcuts: Black mother – white child and White mother-black child, raw depictions of a female figure with a baby child between her legs in a balance of black and white areas. These woodcuts were presented upside down or inverted, the typical Baselitz way of hanging pictures since 1969. I did not find this disturbing with this subject; it was ok to switch between the representational and the abstract form content. In general I think that this upside-down tick goes better with graphic works than with paintings. I was lucky to see the show “sleeping dogs” and got the beautiful catalogue from 1999 (link to an example of etching series).

For the first time I saw some originals from the artists book Malelade. I liked the way Baselitz had treated the printing plates leaving all kinds of marks and fingerprints visible instead of producing an immaculate edition. Somehow the works reminded my of graffiti on worn out walls.

The exhibition contained also some large format paintings, woodcuts and monumental linocuts illustrating the dramatic development Baselitz took in the decade between 1960 and 1970. Around 1966 he began to cut his paintings in pieces or fractions thus destroying a conventional motif look. In the show there was this rural scenery of a cow brutally shredded in pieces for example. Hanging the pictures upside down was only a consequent further development. However I think Baselitz has trapped himself with this hanging gimmick. He can’t stop doing it without destroying his brand even though hanging everything upside down must be boring meantime.

Again it was an inspiring visit and fun to see Baselitz work.

Further resources:
Tate Gallery : Baselitz biography and works

Video about the 75 years exhibition in Austria this year.

write a comment