Bad boy, egotist, prankster, exhibitionist, provocateur. Martin Kippenberger cultivated lots of edgy identities while exploring what it meant to be an artist in a world where traditional values and ways of working had been turned upside down.
Born in Dortmund, West Germany, the son of a coal mine manager and a dermatologist, Kippenberger studied art but aspired to be an actor before launching himself as a painter. His life and career were cut short in 1997, when he died of liver cancer at 44, but he left a hugely varied body of work that defies categorization.
Ann Goldstein, senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, has taken on the challenge in “Martin Kippenberger: Problem Perspective,” the first major U.S. retrospective of the artist's work. Opening today, it's packed with paintings, sculptures, works on paper, installations, photographs, multiples, books, posters and announcement cards. The exhibition will travel to the Museum of Modern Art in New York from March 1 to May 11.
"One can only understand Kippenberger through the breadth and volume of his practice," Goldstein says. "He produced hundreds and hundreds of works. I have settled on 250, but that doesn't account for the fact that one of those is a multi-part installation or that another work comprises 56 canvases and another, 47 drawings.
"Kippenberger claimed a position for himself as a publisher, curator and performer, as well as author of objects," she says. "He was keenly aware of the roles artists play and challenged ideas of authorship and originality. He cannibalized himself over time, recycled his images and worked with assistants and other artists to produce his work, even conceive of the work.
"He really complicated things, but through that complication I think one can see a coherence. My hope is that through the volume, one will have a clear understanding of Kippenberger."
Even so, getting a grip on any artist entails considering one work at a time as well as the big picture. Goldstein shared thoughts, below, about five pieces she chose to exhibit.
Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., and 152 N. Central Ave., L.A. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m. 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Ends Jan. 5. (213) 626-6222.