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The dance of the y-fronts and spiderman kippenberger and his masters

by François Trahais

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We remember Martin Kippenberger (Dortmund, 1953 - Vienne, 1997) for his humour and irreverence. His motto was “Jeder Künstler ist ein Mensch”1,  subverting Joseph Beuys’ famous maxim “Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler”2.   By switching the words, the citation is used here to attack the cliché of the creative genius.


In the early 1980s, the irony of Kippi and his friends from Düsseldorf (Werner Büttner and the Oehlen brothers) opposed the seriousness of the Neue Wilde Kunst. The New Fauves of Berlin advocated a return to expressionism in painting and to the hero worship of the author. Animated by a playful and iconoclastic spirit, the young Kippenberger parodied the masters of the 20th century. In 1985, a photograph by David Douglas Duncan3 illustrated the invitation cards of an exhibition4 by the German artist. On this image, Pablo Picasso poses, dressed simply in a pair of Y-fronts elegantly lifted to his belly button… Three years later, Kippi adopted the same look in a series of somewhat humbling self-portraits. In 1996, the author of the Demoiselles was once again evoked in the series Jacqueline, The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore. This time, Kippenberger took the liberty of adding the final touches to the series of portraits of Jacqueline Roque begun by Picasso nearly fifty years earlier. In the same year, the silhouette of Matisse appeared in the midst of a farandole of Spidermen. Reproducing the composition of The Dance from 19095,  the poster of Kippenberger’s exhibition at L’Atelier Soardi6 proves that the sense of rhythm of superheroes is equal to the masterpieces of the Hermitage Museum.
Provocatively, Kippi transforms idiocy into a stance that enables him to break away from the heroism of the great masters. With Matisse and Picasso parodied in this way, it is the encounter of the Y-fronts and Spiderman, a dance reminiscent of Alphonse Allais’ Ronde des pochards dans le brouillard [Round of Drunks in the Fog]7.  This spirit inherited from the Incoherents, from Dada, Picabia and Duchamp, enabled the enfant terrible of German art to celebrate the end of the modern adventure “in good humour”8.






Translated from the French by Anna Knight

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