Recently I was in Copenhagen
and made prints.
The result pleases me.
I hope you will share
my opinion.
Martin Kippenberger, 1996

Few artists have had such influence on the attitudes and styles of contemporary art as Martin Kippenberger whose natural-born skills as an artist and showman cut a swathe of energy and humor through the art world of the 1980s and 90s. Now an exhibition devoted to Kippenberger’s print works made in collaboration with Niels Borch Jensen Gallery and Editions in the mid-90s are the focus of a new exhibition at BORCHS Butik in Copenhagen. 

Born in Dortmund, Germany in 1953, Kippenberger’s print works express his explicitly ironic approach to life, art and the world. They can be derisive and speculative as well as weighty and humorous, and nearly always leave an indelible imprint on the mind of the viewer.  

Hinter and Vorne, 1996 (pictured top)
Inspired by a famous photograph of the 76-year old Picasso standing majestically outside his villa in Spain, dressed only in his underpants and accompanied by a dog, Kippenberger develops this idea in his self-portraits by presenting himself wearing oversized knickers and looking unheroic compared to the powerful vibrancy of Picasso. Although strangely alluring through their brutal honesty, these etchings portray Kippenberger’s own middle-aged body in a less than glamorous light, teeming with uncertainty and human frailty. His use of female lingerie only adds to the absurdity with the unsavoury mash of male nudity and female elegance. The artist as a figure—as well as Kippenberger himself—are favourite subjects in his works and here the self-portrait receives its own new, self-exposed and immodest exploration. 

Martin Kippenberger, Eierfrau, 1996, Aquatint etching and Martin Kippenberger, Eiermann, 1996 Aquatint etching

Eiermann and Eierfrau, 1996
The Egg was a recurring motif throughout Kippenberger’s work, he reveled in its symbolic though acute banality: “In painting you must look what fallen fruit is left that you can paint. The egg has missed out there, Warhol already had the banana. You take a form for yourself it’s always about angular, square, this and that format, about the golden mean. The egg is white and insipid, how can a colorful picture come from that?” The humble white egg becomes the banal comedic device in much of his work and in his series Eiermann and Eierfrau the egg’s symbolic meaning is cryptically lambasted. Bringing up connotations of reproduction, birth and sexuality, the Eierfrau in his etching is one huge walking egg with an open cavity, whereas the man in Eiermann is brandishing a sword, an instrument of penetration. In these works human reproduction is laid bare, reduced to its basest, laughable simplicity. 

But of course with Kippenberger there are many readings, and perhaps the open drawer of Eierfrau indicates the impossibility of ascribing meaning—it can’t be pigeonholed (schubladisieren) but just exists. At the same time the knight in Eiermann, has perhaps just found a novel means to open a soft-boiled egg.    

Martin Kippenberger, Hose, 1996, Aquatint etching and Martin Kippenberger, Tisch, 1996, Photogravure letter type

Hose, 1996,
Hose captures Kippenberger at his sardonic best, for there is nothing more humanizing and normalizing than a man pulling up his own trousers. When the writer George Orwell was fighting for the Republican militia against Mussolini’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War, he once wrote of having failed to shoot at a man dashing along the parapet of a fascists trench because his trousers were falling down. “I had come here to shoot at Fascists; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn’t a Fascist, he is visibly a fellow-creature similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting him.” Looking again at Kippenberger’s etching it is impossible not to see the ridiculousness of a man hiking up his trousers but also a sense of kinship. A few times each day a person stoops to pull up his trousers, an act—whether from getting dressed or going to the loo—that portrays him at his most vulnerable, ludicrousness and human—it is impossible to look elegant at this moment. Regardless of all this Kippenberger might just be making a cross-language pun about hose (the German word for trousers) and hose a slang term for a penis. 

Tisch, 1996
The print format allowed Kippenberger to explore a more playful approach than through his paintings, and his irreverent and trenchant views of the world are unmistakably revealed. With the word TISCH Kippenberger presents us with a chair and asks us to please not sit on it. It is direct and a telling example of Kippenberger’s art as a space where everything—including the blistering mundane—is fragmented to generate new life. He was adept at exploiting the nuances of language and would have chuckled at the simple upending of calling “a spade a spade”. 

Martin Kippenberger, Burlington meets Burberries 1 & 2, 1996, Aquatint etchings

Burlington meets Burberries I and II, 1996,
Kippenberger’s series of aquatint etchings are delightfully playful in their connection between the famous plaid colored fabric and the chunks of meat sitting at their center. That the cloth is used to dress meat, human meat, clearly amuses the artist who would also have been aware than the bundle in Burlington meets Burberries 1 could similarly be a pair of socks folded together. Kippenberger, the master of “layered innuendo”, enjoyed creating works of resonance and unique artistic wit from cultural references. This strange collision of high-grade fashion labels and earthy, butchery has intriguingly cryptic and joyful connotations. 

The Etchings and Photogravures from Martin Kippenberger at BORCHs Butik in Copenhagen will run from the 19th of August through to the 15th of September, 2016


By Duncan Ballantyne-Way – Senior Editor