As one of the most prodigious artists of the 1980s and 90s, Martin Kippenberger epitomised the romantic notion of the artist in the late 20th century. Inventing himself as the centre of the art world, Martin Kippenberger’s practice was based on shameless self-promotion. Mythologizing himself as an Everyman-hero, Kippenberger’s vast body of work is a testament to a larger-than-life character, a tragic-comic paladin, plagued as much by his own talent and success as by his ego and shortcomings.
Martin Kippenberger always knew he’d be a something: deciding on a career as an artist only after failed stints as a novelist, actor, musician, and nightclub owner. This spirit of democracy – of inflicting himself creatively on the world in whatever form – is omnipresent throughout Kippenberger’s work. Bolstered by an unwavering self-belief that his every contribution was a masterpiece, Martin Kippenberger approached art with a sort of ‘free for all’ naivety, stripping away art’s glamour and hierarchy to expose its absurd dysfunctionality at every level.
Martin Kippenberger’s career has transformed into an almost cult-like legend, existing as much in lore-ish tradition as in the actual physical works. He’s the guy who bought a run-down gas station in Brazil and named it after a Nazi war criminal. He built an imaginary global subway system with real entrances installed in the Yukon, Leipzig, and a remote field in Greece (and working air vents at various points in between).
He opened The Museum of Modern Art in an unused abattoir in Syros (MOMAS). He bought a Gerhard Richter painting to use as a coffee table. For Kippenberger, art wasn’t about disrespect: it was about what he could get away with. Painting figures highly in Martin Kippenberger’s work. Consciously aware of its power of legitimisation, Kippenberger made paintings ceaselessly throughout his career.
As a painter, Martin Kippenberger was almost a prodigal talent: refusing to be identified by a ‘style’, each of his canvases demonstrates an immense understanding and control of representation, composition and gesture. Subjects as eclectic as his multi-facetted practice are often taken from the mundane and everyday. His favourite café in Berlin, the Chevrolet Capri, and abstract paintings constructed of beach towels all serve to underscore the idea of an art for all: democratic, easy and as infinitely limitless and valued as the most cultured treasure. “People come along [in twenty years or so] and can say what the work and the artist were really all about.
What people will say about me then — or maybe not say — will be the only thing that finally counts. Whether or not I contributed to spreading a good mood. What I’m working on is for people to be able to say that Kippenberger had this really good mood.” – Martin Kippenberger, 1990.