The much anticipated survey of Martin Kippenberger titled, "The Problem Perspective," is set to open next week at the Museum of Modern Art. This exhibition is astounding in scale and crosses an array of media all at once. While Kippenberger would easily lead one to believe that his vast number of multi-media installations, drawings, and paintings together portray him as a jack-of-all-trades and a master-of-none, this show stands as his critique upon the shallow nature of the conspicuous art market, the need for new trends and the disingenuousness that has been placed upon the artistic process.
Kippenberger added a self-portrait in nearly every work of art to frame the context of the contemporary art world upon himself, the individual artist. However due to his representions and appropriations of modern masters like Picasso, Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, scholars have interpreted Kippenberger's work to represent a longing for such grand status. But Kippenberger's legacy as an artist runs much deeper and joins the ranks of Rembrandt and Max Beckmann, two artists whose work consisted largely of self-portraits. Like Beckmann, he was a contemporary Romantic who utilized the process of self-critique to render reality as it was. In an effort to keep his work relevant, Kippenberger utilized everyday materials and deconstructed the notion of the artist as master. As an anti-artist, one who did not conform to either traditional studio or gallery tactics, Kippenberger exposed the museums' use of "artist as master" for the purposes of marketing rather than aesthetics.
This odd irony is best captured in "The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika'," (1994) which is a large room of various chairs and desks that are intended to symbolize the interviews of aspiring immigrants to the United States. But as nice as the artist's narrative sounds, it does not exist. Franz Kafka's book titled, "Amerika," was left unfinished. Moreover, every depiction that Kafka created throughout his book was based upon pictures and travel books that he came across. Kafka never travelled to America. Kippenberger leaves the viewer suspended between his own vision of reality and what is known, while leaving open the question of what is America? Who owns it? How does anyone know that he or she has arrived to this particular destination?
Kippenberger took his role as an artist seriously. He orchestrated irony quite frequently, revealing the challenge of working as a contemporary artist in this complex globalized world, a place where a person's nationality no longer meant as much as the product that was produced. In the February issue of Artforum, George Baker reflects upon Kippenberger in Los Angeles during 1989. The artist decided to financially invest in Capri, "the somewhat forlorn, outdated (very '80s) restaurant." But before we can ask why, Baker continues with: "someone who knew Kippenberger, or someone who knew someone who knew Kippenberger, will tell you that the artist wanted to back the restaurant so that Los Angeles could have decent spaghetti Bolognese." Therefore Kippenberger did not finally achieve meaning within the last two years of his life, and subsequent death, as Ann Temkin suggests. Instead he was a master of irony throughout and, like Takashi Murakami or Gerhard Richter, he knew what the market wanted. The market was not about aesthetics, about being German or about making subjectively nice art. Rather, it was about anything that could be made fast and sell well. In this, Kippenberger succeeded.