Georg Baselitz, Bildübereins (One
Picture Over Another)
10 May - 5 December, 1991
oil on canvas
282 x 452 cm
at the Musée d'Art Moderne
letter from paris by Jeff Rian
at the musee d'art moderne
Since emigrating from East Berlin in 1956,
Georg Baselitz has striven to join the
pantheon of art heavies, and he has
succeeded quite well. Migrating West, his
idea of the avant-garde was a not-very-
modern figurative art. His rise to
prominence, however, occurred when a
generation of artists coming of age in the
1980s began to look at art through the lens
of history and the focus of a camera. So
his wild, isolated figures fit that
generation's detachment from history. His
reasons might have been different, but the
effects were not.
Yet Baselitz is more like a folk artist
than a salon or society artist. For over 30
years he has painted in rough confident
strokes direct from the can, and sculpted
giant wood figures with a chainsaw, all the
while slightly varying his passion for
mangled and deformed he-man louts with
small heads and sentimental poetic hearts.
Often they gaze upward, drenched in muck
and toil, like Siegfrieds toward Valhalla.
Since 1969 he's painted them upside-down,
if only to make them -- or him -- different.
And it worked, for that's the kind of
bravura that gets our eye.
The installation is chronological, tracing
a course from the autumn-colored fragmented
figures he made in the 60s, through a
broadening of brushstrokes in the 1970s,
when his palette was faster and had more
contrast, through a next decade of big
brashy paintings and hacked monochrome
linocuts, to his most recent works of the
1990s, which include loose near-
abstractions in one or two colors and some
with parts of figures under black splotchy
footprints that track across the surface.
There is also a 1996 series of watery
portraits of his family as youths, all
bearing comic Alfred E. Newman grimaces.
Time and success have refined Baselitz, for
the later works are more mannered. Yet they
retain the same chunky anti-hero hugeness
of the early works, which for all their
funk and bruteness are undeniable, even in
these transitional times.