LONDON - In an unprecedented event, Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Department will offer on October 11 and 12 an important collection of Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) self-portraits, including thirteen works on paper and the seminal oil on canvas, Ohne Titel (Untitled), from the series Hand-Painted Pictures) (1992) (estimate: £2,500,000-3,500,000). The latter was previously exhibited in the major retrospectives of the artist’s work held at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1993, Tate Modern, London in 2006, MoCA, Los Angeles and MoMA, New York in 2009. Assembled over the course of a twenty-five year friendship, this collection belongs to someone who knew the artist so well, that these works offer a unique insight and portrait of the artist. Charismatic and irreverent, Martin Kippenberger is remembered for his conceptual and expressive transformation of the 1980s and 1990s art scene.
Francis Outred, Christie's Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Europe: “Martin Kippenberger's revolutionary influence on contemporary art practice continues to grow by the day. At the source of his wild approach to and disdain for the preconceived notions of the artist's role in society was his own self. His self-portraits lie at the heart of his oeuvre and I have never seen such an outstanding collection, which so accurately documents his development from the 1970s to his tragic, early death in 1997. It is an honour for Christie's to present this collection, the product of an intense friendship with the artist, which is anchored by Untitled from the series Hand-Painted Pictures (1992); a true masterpiece by Martin Kippenberger.”
Forming a unique group from an important European private collection, all of the Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) self-portraits that Christie's will offer in the London Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening and Day Auctions on October 11 and 12 are situated around the landmark series of self-portraits: Liebe Maler, Male Mir (Dear Painter, Paint For Me) (1981), the Picasso paintings (1988) and Hand Painted Pictures (1992), which anchor Kippenberger’s practice. Together they constitute a survey of the artist’s life, charting his changing faces and the facets of his character up until 1996, the year before his untimely death.
LOT 14 - A masterpiece of Martin Kippenberger’s oeuvre, Untitled (1992) presents a heraldic, life-size self-portrait of the artist, emerging out of a sea of abstract brushstrokes. With the tools of his trade: his artist’s hands held aloft, he appears like a champion boxer. Previously exhibited in the major retrospectives of the artist’s work held at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1993, Tate Modern, London in 2006, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2009, the painting belongs to a rare and outstanding group of self-portraits that came to define Kippenberger’s career; many of which are now held in major private and public collections including those of Annick and Anton Herbert, Christopher Wool and Charline von Heyl, the Flick Collection and Centre Georges Pompidou. Bathetic and irreverent, his greatest self-portraits transformed the artistic milieu, unsettling pre-existing prescriptions for the genre and expectations of artistic self-presentation. Together the pivotal series: Lieber Maler, Male Mir (Dear Painter, Paint For Me) (1981), the Picasso paintings (1988) and Hand-Painted Pictures (1992) anchor his life and practice, recording events as they unfurled with the passage of time. In Untitled Kippenberger has painted a trinity of figurative elements with the greatest of alacrity: the artist’s two expertly realised hands and carefully modulated face offering an almost sculptural quality. Painted on the island of Syros, Greece in 1992, the unflinching gaze and stark presentation of Untitled has a Byzantine air, reminiscent of a religious icon. This effect is reinforced by the painted, Greek-Cyrillic letters encircling the figure’s head. This laurel tracing the shape of an egg (the artist’s symbolic alter-ego), carefully transliterates from French the words Enfant Terrifik: a play on the phrase l’enfant terrible often lent to a strikingly candid or unorthodox character. Throughout his lifetime, Kippenberger rejoiced in playing up the stereotypes of the artist: the artist as drunk, as showman, as jester. In Untitled, Kippenberger is seen confronting these axioms through the medium of paint.
LOT 15 - Previously exhibited at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in 2003-2004, Ohne Titel (Untitled (1990) expertly recreates in two dimensions the iconic sculpture Martin, Into the Corner, You Should be Ashamed of Yourself one of which is held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Realised in coloured pencil on hotel stationary, the work is a self-portrait of the artist, seen with hands clasped behind his back, standing in the corner like a scolded schoolboy. Flushed as if in embarrassment, the pate of his head and intertwined palms are rendered in a bright vermillion orange. The simple clothes: plain cotton shirt, blue trouser slacks and crossed braces are all rendered in rapid lines that demonstrate the artist’s skilled draftsmanship.
LOT 16 - Executed in 1988, Kippenberger’s Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1988) combines two important themes from the artist’s contemporary practice: the selfportrait, in which he adopts once more the pose made famous by the photograph of Pablo Picasso by David Douglas Duncan in 1962 and sculpture: the empty wardrobe entitled Wittgenstein (1987) belonging to his influential Peter: The Russian Position (1987). Created in the same year as Kippenberger’s monumental oil on canvas Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1988), the present work is a careful and prodigious iteration of the painted composition. The work was importantly exhibited in the The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ at the Diechtorhallen, Hamburg in 1999; a restaging of the artist’s ambitious installation originally held at the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam in 1994, which adopted Kafka’s unfinished literary fiction, Amerika (1914) and translated it into a sporadic collection of sculpture-furniture.
LOT 17 - Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1996) offers a tender depiction of Kippenberger standing side by side with his daughter Helena. Born in 1988, Helena is depicted as a little girl, still clutching her father’s hand. A bittersweet recollection, the work was carried out shortly before the artist’s premature death. Carefully rendered, the work is replete with fine lines and washes of watercolour: vivid purple for the artist’s coat and corn yellow for the child’s hair. Captured on hotel stationary from the infamous Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, it reflects the artist’s itinerant lifestyle, never settling in any one location for any great length of time.
LOT 18 - Executed in a cornucopia of coloured wax crayon, Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1972) is a psychedelic self-portrait carried out in the same year that Kippenberger began his studies at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst, Hamburg. Uniting two side profiles of the artist and a full frontal depiction of his face, Kippenberger has rendered his young, handsome, aquiline features with the greatest care, rending his hair with a rainbow palette of indigo through brilliant orange to lime green. Falling beneath the artist’s placid stare, Kippenberger has drawn a languishing female nude, her head replaced by a stopwatch whose time has been suspended. It is an oneiric image that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the 1970s, the room revolving like a vivid hallucination.
LOT 19 - Immer an der Wand Beißen bei Susan is a sculptural tribute by Martin Kippenberger to Bruce Nauman and Susan Rothenberg. Created in 1990, Rothenberg is playfully alluded to in the title of the work, whilst the cast of the man’s head recalls Nauman’s own Hanging Head series. The work was carried out in Los Angeles, shortly after Kippenberger had moved to the United States. It was here on the west coast that he met Nauman, Rothenberg and others including Mike Kelley, John Baldessari and Cady Noland. In Immer an der Wand Beißen bei Susan, Kippenberger’s sculpture playfully undermines the features of the artist’s face, reminiscent from his earlier sculptural self-portraits such as Martin, Into the Corner, You Should be Ashamed of Yourself (1989). Kippenberger playfully winds loops of metal like strings of spaghetti through the foam and plastic bust. Spaghetti was renowned to be the artist’s favourite dish and here in Immer an der Wand Beißen bei Susan, Kippenberger takes visible pleasure in this witty, esoteric comment. The head itself is dangled from the canary yellow foot mounted on the wall above. An ironic self-reference in the artist’s imaginative, sculptural vernacular, the foot recurs prominently in his latex and rubber paintings in 1991, the following year.
In the early 1970s in works such as Ohne Titel (Untitled) (c.1970) (lot 236), we see Kippenberger reveling in his skilled draftsmanship, actively referring back to line drawings undertaken by Albrecht Dürer and seeking to be the paradigmatic artist with his carefully constructed, coloured drawings. In a case of art mirroring life however, the works on paper transform over time, reflecting the profound shifts occurring in Kippenberger’s personal realm.
In Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1986) (lot 234), we see the artist’s distended silhouette looking out over the New York skyline; a geometric vista translated from the sculpture New York Seen from the Bronx (1985).
In Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1995) (lot 231), rendered on hotel stationery, the artist’s hand reaches through a curtain like a marionette, the wooden sculpture reproduced on the left portion of the page derived from the artist’s sculpture, Untitled (1996). The box with its aperture at the front reveals the torso of a well-dressed figure: the artist’s alter ego appearing like a headless snapshot.
Waging a one-man assault against the art world’s status quo, Kippenberger was bent on destabilising the postwar German paradigm, with its prescriptions for style and ideology. Employing multiple media and techniques, Kippenberger’s art offered an itinerant sensibility, a programmatic ‘stylessness’ and iconoclasm for which any subject was game.