Obituary: Martin Kippenberger

The contemporary art world no longer requires one to be talented, in terms of skill, technique or sensibility, in order to be considered great and much of the blame or praise for this situation might be thrown at Martin Kippenberger, who has died at the aggressive age of 44 after a long, terminal battle with disco dancing, indiscriminate fornication and, above all, drinking.

Kippenberger took the notion of the Bohemian painter and exaggerated it to ironic excess, pastiching and promoting not only Montmartre's self- destructive hedonism but, more importantly, his whole native German culture.

Amongst post-war German artists, angst was, not surprisingly, obligatory, along with the haunting question of what constitutes "German-ness" after Nazidom. Whilst Joseph Beuys or Anselm Kiefer turned such issues into operatic, metaphysical themes, Kippenberger was the only one honestly to face the kitsch and commercial crassness of the New Germany. Kiefer painted burning fields and imperial eagles; Kippenberger celebrated television wurst advertisements, Heidi boutique mannequins, badly printed beermats, Berlin kebab shops and lurid cartoon hangovers.

His career can be traced from 1979, when he lived in cold-war Berlin and mounted such performance events as "Pisscrutch Action" or "Spying on your Neighbour": museum shows followed in Darmstadt and seemingly everywhere else simultaneously thereafter. His trademark sculpture was Street Lamp for Drunks, an old- fashioned bent gas lamp-post, of the type seen on comic postcards propping up the fall-down drunk. This exaggerated drunkenness in itself was the core of Kippenberger's modus operandi. He boasted that he would rather be known as drinker than artist and this wish was granted. Yet he was only trying to demonstrate that drinking was a crucial element in German life which had been overlooked in the celebration of his country's economic miracle.

Indeed Kippenberger's oeuvre was an attempt to prove a whole set of stereotypes true, Teutonic and male. In this he was an important influence on countless young artists (not least today's celebrated British stars), stressing the importance of massive alcohol intake, all-night sociability and sundry bar outrages, along with the aforementioned unimportance of art. That said, some of his work could be surprisingly interesting: a series of watercolour sketches done on the notepaper of the expensive hotels he passed through or trashed; expressionistic paintings hung as photographs whilst the originals lay shredded in skips; a self-portrait in bronze standing in disgrace in the corner; gigantic model pills.

That much of this work was produced by others - young artists he patronised and promoted on a whim - or in collaboration with others, only added to its ambiguity, as did his creation of a whole set of pseudonyms, imaginary artists and groups. Thus he was founder member of the Lord Jim Lodge, a non-existent artists' group whose motto was "Nobody Helps Anybody".

He even invented his own jive talk with which he berated uncomprehending indigenous peoples the world over, usually as a prelude to a fist fight. Kippenberger was obsessed with rock 'n' roll and had as many bands, stage names, record labels and limited edition 45s as painterly alibis. Anyone who saw him in action, ranting and raging, swinging his mike on stage at 5am, could see his genuine, abiding star quality, a charisma which happened to have been diverted into the art world.

In 1986 he bought a petrol shop in Brazil and christened it "The Martin Bormann Gas Station". In Venice, California, he bought an Italian restaurant with the express intention of serving the same lousy pizzas he could find back in Germany, firing several chefs until he found one talentless enough. For a large show at the Rotterdam Boymans Museum he persuaded women to dress up and perform as American cheerleaders, none of their ra-ra skirts or tops quite fitting, emphasising the eroticism of this pseudo-teenage display. Kippenberger was consistently, gleefully, sexist, pugilistic, loud, obnoxious, cruel, autocratic, drunk or hung-over. He was also, thanks to the power of the German art world, often rich and fat, but the more money he had, the more willingly he spent it on parties, exotic travel, whores or yet another punk band.

In terms of massive output, piggishness, drunkenness and Germanness, he was comparable to that other dangerous genius Werner Fassbinder, a comparison he would have hated, Fassbinder being, in his words, a "faggot".

If the list of Kippenberger's exhibitions is daunting - from 1993 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, to the Museum of Modern Art in Geneva that recently opened a retrospective of his work from 1976 to 1997, not mentioning shows in private galleries all over the world - equally impressive was the resistance of the official German art world. Ironically, this summer Kippenberger will finally be included in Documenta, the international show held every five years in Kassel with which he had become obsessed, owing to its omission of his work.

If Kippenberger (always known as "Kippi") loved art, collected, accumulated, accepted as gifts or osmosis the work of many contemporaries, organising the art display at Berlin's pre-eminent hangout, the Paris Bar, he never pretended his own massive production was anything other than high-volume braggadocio. And that is precisely why he will be remembered as a serious, influential artist of the end of the 20th century, for knowing instinctively that life, myth and drink will from now on be more important than the occasional elegant canvas.

Adrian Dannatt

Martin Kippenberger, artist: born Dortmund, Germany 25 February 1953; married (one daughter); died Vienna 8 March 1997.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album