Biography of Martin Kippenberger
The enfant terrible of the contemporary German art scene, Martin Kippenberger's short life saw him balancing his self-destructive personality with his astonishing talent. Inventive and combative, his natural-born skills as an artist and showman cut a swathe of energy and humor through the art world of 1980s and 90s. He pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable and never shied away from raising the difficult questions about what it meant to be an artist, and what it meant to be a German. In 1975 Kippenberger bought a petrol station in Brazil and brazenly named it Gas Station Martin Bormann after Hitler’s on-the-run secretary, and even installed an answering machine that greeted clients with "Bormann gas".
Born in 1953—the only boy in a family of five children—Martin Kippenberger inherited enough money to live off after his mother died in a workplace accident. Prolific and hard working, he tried his hand at acting and even became a punk musician before settling on art. Since his death from liver cancer in 1997—he was said to have made a twenty-year commitment to unrestrained excess—his star has been very much on the rise and his works are now hugely in demand.
Investigating concepts of self-mythology, ideology, and originality, Martin Kippenberger questioned the notion of the towering artist despite making himself the focal point of much of his work. Always acting the clown, he made his life into an ongoing work of art. As his friend the artist Albert Oehlen, once said of him, 'All day long and with all of his heart, he really does believe in nothing else but art.' It was this total commitment combined with his underlying cynicism for the art world that gives Kippenberger's work such a unique place in art history, pitching itself between pain and optimism, bitterness and poignancy, aggression and sensitivity.
Five years after his death in 2002 Martin Kippenberger was given a solo exhibition at Tate Modern that was followed in 2009 with an exhibition entitled The Problem Perspective at MoMA PS1 as well as a prestigious retrospective at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin in 2013. The artist’s prowess as a painter was both hampered and enhanced by his belief in a "perceived death of painting." Kippenberger is now the cult figure that the art world seems always to crave, and the challenging and bitterly ironic body of work he leaves behind continues to astound and mesmerize.