Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Artist Profile: Martin Kippenberger

Born: February 25, 1953 in Dortmund.
Died: March 7, 1997 in Vienna (cause of death – liver cancer)

I like Kippenberger partly because he always puts a smile on my face. Even though he was a pretty major alcoholic, he didn’t have the “tortured artist” persona that some of my other favorites have. His work is playful, particularly his song, ‘Yuppi Du’, which you can hear on YouTube here:

His poem, ‘No Problem’, co-written with Albert Oehlen has numerous thought provoking stanzas and could hold its own against the average Beat or Imagist poem any day.

The poem hints at various problems – the mind-body/free will problem, the problem of commodity fetishism, the problem of narrow-mindedness, among others.

Some of my favorite lines are:
“This sentence has problems”
(Multi-layered self-reference at its finest. The neo counterpart to Magritte’s infamous ‘Treachery of Images’ piece.)

“We don’t have problems with streets because they are surrounded by houses.”
(No reason to fear that which you don’t have to face unless you want to. To quote a Banksy piece: “Let them eat crack.”)

Two shining others which need not annotation:
“You are not the problem – it’s the problem maker in your head.”
“We don’t have problems w people who look exactly like us because they get our pain.”

Kippenberger’s work is distinctive because it stands alone in terms of the use of unusual forms of collaboration – his massive installation, ‘The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s “Amerika”’ (1994), was an attempt to finish the unfinished work.

One writer described Kippenberger as having “embraced failure as generative strategy.”

His work isn’t kitschy and not overtly satirical. It’s about having fun but never forgetting you’re an adult – who can drink all day and be ironic if you felt like it. It’s that of poised and humorous underground musings w/ a layer of pop culture shellac.

An interesting work, which I unfortunately couldn’t find a picture of online, is a shelving unit readymade piece that Kippenberger painted gray and named ‘Wittgenstein’, after the philosopher. Matthew Collings writes, in ‘This is Modern Art’, “…Wittgenstein was a favorite author among Minimal and Conceptual artists of the 1960s…it seems appropriate because grey was the favorite colour of both those movements.”

Like many great artists before and after him, Kippenberger provides a lot of questions on what is necessary in art, and challenges our conception of what can work in art. His canon is like a stew made from not-too-old leftovers: It’s got a little bit of everything, but is packed with heartiness.

Here’s a great video on MoMA’s ‘The Problem Perspective’ exhibition, which mentions Kippenberger’s hodgepodge, but calculated subject matter.


  1. So, I've read this post probably 7-8 times. I wish I knew more about Kippenberger and art in general so that I'd have something constructive to say. I watched the yt video you posted of his work; it has a twisted appeal. I can't say that I'm not intrigued. Other than that, its a neatly written piece that I enjoyed reading each of the 7-8 times. :) Another cool ass dude, brought to you by Katherine M. Concepcion.

  2. :D! I'll post some more things of his in the near future.


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I love to read about linguistics, behavioral economics, theory and philosophy. I listen to music some might call outdated, write satirical and high testosterone plays, consume too much caffeine and ruthlessly defend modern and contemporary art.