Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
Back to Reviews 96

Georg Baselitz,
Bildübereins (One
Picture Over Another)
10 May - 5 December,&nbsp1991
oil on canvas
282 x 452 cm
at the Musée d'Art Moderne

letter from paris
by Jeff Rian

georg baselitz
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.

JEFF RIAN is a writer living in Paris.