Friday, 20 March 2009

Georg Baselitz

Marcel and Maurizio are kind of similar, one might assume, the pharmacy flies higher, 2009
Oil on Canvas 300 x 250cm

White Cube, London
18 March 2009

This large impressive exhibition of new work, titled ‘Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale’ and curated by Sir Norman Rosenthal, is totally suited to the austere White Cube environment. It comprises 16 paintings, all of the same subject; a fictional image of Stalin and Lenin, seated and posed like Otto Dix’s 1924 portrait of his own parents, only in true Baselitz fashion, they are tipped upside down. Eight of the paintings are on a white background and eight on a black background and are hung alternatively in the two gallery spaces. Night follows day. Each of the black paintings has a large white border at the bottom, turning the painted area into a square, which is perhaps a modernist acknowledgement of the actual process of making the painting.

Curiously the name of each painting has a reference to contemporary artists and I couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind this seemingly arbitrary allocation. Perhaps it is a collective reference to the freedom today’s artists enjoy compared to his own environment in the GDR where he was asked to leave art school in East Berlin because of “political immaturity”.

Predictably, I have chosen one of the black paintings and like the other seven the ground colour of thin matt black is applied with unevenly with a wide brush. The two figures are rendered over the top in milky white, opaque lemon yellows and greys. Finally there is a layer of drawn marks and splatters and dribbles in dark black, grey and pure white. Although the motif is the same in each painting the interpretation in each is different, and although I realise the upside down image is to remind us it is just a painting, in this one the two men seem to be floating in space. Through careful drawing in the mayhem of marks, particular attention is given to the boots, which is a reference to Edvard Munch and the exposed erect penises, a reference perhaps to his own 1962 painting “A Big Night Down the Drain”.

Baselitz was born in 1938 in the village of Deutschbaselitz in Saxony, grew up in the GDR and fifty years later is still addressing the trauma of living as an artist in a country languishing in political repression and economic stagnation. The sixteen paintings allude to the fifteen states of the former Soviet Union created by Lenin and later ruled with unprecedented brutality by Stalin (known as ‘the Nightingale’ because he had been a chorister as a boy) with the series being completed by the former German Democratic Republic. His obsession with the past is palpable, as is the sense of loss signalled by the references to Dix in particular, but also all the other contemporary artists.

©blackdog 2009

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