The bad boy of German painting, spoilt, unreliable, amateur, erratic, sarcastic, seducer, mysogonist par moment and yuppie. Under his leadership, the arts moved to outsource production, he even experimented with offshoring while focussing investment on the brand. Martin Kippenberger was more than an artist, he was a conglomerate.
Before the Why Be A**’s (Young British Artists) knew their arse from their elbow and started their joint venture with Saatchi, Kippenberger had posed in Florence, opened offices in Berlin, painted Köln red, started Martin Boorman’s Tankstelle during the Magical Misery Tour of Brazil, fathered a daughter in Spain and exhibited with Jeff Koons in LA. Kippenberger was the court painter of late financial predotcom capitalism. Skills weren’t necessary if you can write the contract and finance the (ad)ventures no matter how ludicrous they are.
Dead and Buried for over twenty years, what Bonn has to offer is a collection of objects from both the estate and private collectors which keep the brand alive through the legend of the man. The party is over, Capitalism one (and failed twice) but Kippenberger lives on as one of its champions who fought Communism. What is left are the objects d’art: paintings, sculptures and a rug. Then there’s the parafanalia: the pills, the publications, the found and the long lost organised in a cabinet de curiosité followed by a few installations that can be dismantled and stored fairly easily. Somewhere between a retrospective and a liquidation, this exhibition represents the man fittingly; you can’t really be sure what this is.
Family Hunger stands like a mock modernist sculpture in a municipal sauna being used for a first year theatre project, Put Your Eye in Your Mouth a skip full of destroyed paintings, accompanied by full-size photos of the paintings and L’Atelier de Matisse sous-loué à Spiderman.
The tapestry that is woven, the story that is told speaks to the Germany of the Wirtshaftwunder and its failure to create meaning. What is perhaps most revealing of Kippenberger Inc’s contradictions is that which is absent. The collaborations, the music, the late nights, the immersive installations, Jetze get rich in den Birkenwal, den mine Pillen wirken bald (Now I Am Going into the Big Birch Wood, My Pills Will Soon Start Working), The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika or METRO-NET transportable Subway Entrance (Crushed). Becket’s idiom, ‘fail, fail again, fail better’ married with Kippenberger’s optimism and light heartedness led to grander projects and greater échecs. The volume and the autobiographical parcour gives the show substance and meaning but I can’t help but I feel that he should be remembered for those failures that force us to question where is civilisation taking us? Is art an object or is art there to object? And save us from ourselves.