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Martin Kippenberger

German Painter, Sculptor, Photographer, Installation Artist

Martin Kippenberger Photo
Movements and Styles: Neo-Dada, Neo Pop Art

Born: February 25, 1953 - Dortmund, West Germany

Died: March 7, 1997 - Vienna, Austria

"You really can't bring about anything new with art. I knew that already as a child. One can try to change the world for oneself, but exhibitions are, actually, quite superfluous."

Summary of Martin Kippenberger

Though unpopular with the German art establishment, Martin Kippenberger was regarded by many of his contemporaries to be the most vigorous and audacious of the post-post-war generation of German artists. During his short life, the combustible, irreverent and prolific artist worked across many mediums including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, performance art, installation art, and music experimentation. Though he claimed he "didn't have a style," Kippenberger is generally recognized for his penchant for appropriation, his use of found and/or sundry objects, and his insistence that art should connect in some way with the everyday world. His art is often said to recall the impudent, and at times aggressive, spirit of early Dadaism, and at times the ironic playfulness of Pop Art; or what became known from the eighties as Neo-Pop Art.

Key Ideas

The post-war generation of German artists, proudly represented on the international stage by the likes of Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys, were using art to help process their country's catastrophic recent history. Kippenberger thought that, some thirty years forward, German art needed to become more 'alive'. For him, no subject was too sacred, nor too trivial, and his work drew on any point of reference - cultural, historical, personal - to deliver ironic statements on the art world and its history. He can then be grouped with the provocative Neo-Pop Art movement - which brings together the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Katharina Fritsch, Cady Noland, Keith Haring - that used consumer culture and everyday readymades as a way to critique Western culture and its values.
Kippenberger had not been swayed by the latest maxim that "painting was dead" and, though he worked across most mediums, he was happy to explore the future possibilities for painting by producing crude and impudent canvases that became known as his Bad Paintings. Bad Painting is associated with artistic movement beginning in the late 1970s and gained recognition as a movement following the 1978 "Bad Painting" exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art of New York. The exhibition's curator, the art critic Marcia Tucker, had been interested in bringing together a provocative, spontaneous art that challenged the idea of artistic "good taste" through its crude aesthetic and technical application (Kippenberger did not feature in the exhibition).
Kippenberger was insistent that art should be part of the everyday world and he railed against institutionalized highbrow art such as Neo-Expressionism. For Kippenberger, art was about ideas and concepts over skilful execution and he drew inspiration, not so much from political and social history, but more from inconsequential cultural events and objects. His aim was to poke fun at pompous artistic orthodoxies (hence the label Bad Paintings).
Kippenberger was a nomadic individual who travelled to locations including Florence, Madrid, Vienna, Los Angeles and Syros. His restlessness tallied with the image of an errant son - an iconoclast - whose "attitude" brought added interest to his art. He was alert to the importance of publicity (and self-publicity) and he embraced his notoriety to full effect. Kippenberger knew that if he was to "seize the moment", then the personality of the artist - or the artist's legend - must do the job of announcing his art to the biggest public. His self-styled "rebellious swagger" had an especially profound impact on the Young British Artists (YBAs) group who followed his example in exploiting their own celebrity - or rather their infamy - to inform on readings of their art works.
Martin Kippenberger Photo

The third child of five (a brother to four sisters), Martin Kippenberger was born, in 1953, in Dortmund, Germany to upper-middle-class parents. His father, Gerd, ran a colliery while his mother, Helena, worked in the field of dermatology. Gerd, a true force for parental good by all accounts, was both a gregarious socialite and a passionate art collector. It became apparent from an early age that Kippenberger would become heir to his father's passion, his elder sister Susanne recalling for instance how almost "as soon as he could hold a pencil, he drew and painted, glued and stapled." Soon he was copying paintings from his father's collection by the likes of Picasso, Klee, Chagall and Kokoschka and all the while receiving enthusiastic praise from his father for his "beautiful drawings".

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