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On Kippenberger at MoMA: fragments, notes, preservation of posts

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Martin Kippenberger, The Problem Perspective
Museum of Modern Art
February 24 - May 11, 2009

In the MoMA lobby during the reception for the Martin Kippenberger show, there was a moment of unplanned performance art, bad behavior that some found a testimony to his enduring legacy.

People fed up at the long coat-check line began piling their coats on the floor, and, two hours into an open bar, a few began diving under, creating a writhing lobby octopus. Security guards broke it up, one noting to the applauding crowd, "This is not part of the Kippenberger exhibition. This is about people drinking too much."

But if I might say, the entire Kippenberger oeuvre is fundamentally about one person drinking too much, and everything that follows from that. As Holland Cotter noted in his review of the show:

As an artist he was a performer, an entertainer, a provoker, as he was in life. At punk bars and biennials he was the juiced-up guy who made scintillating speeches, picked stupid fights and periodically dropped his pants. He was the same person in his art.

Good to watch the kiddies create a coat pile/mosh pit in the middle of MoMA's lobby. Was it bad behavior in sympathy with Kippenberger's drinking or his performance-oriented "rebellion"? Or more likely their inability to wait on line while drunk? Either way, it reeks of revelation, a true zeitgeist moment.

Also amazing to learn that artists of all ages, colors and sexual persuasions actually attend museum openings. Hold your horses - can this really be true?

I have been waiting months for the Kippenberger show to arrive in NY, and will undoubtedly write about it elsewhere. K is a personal hero; I went drinking with him in Cologne twenty years ago at Spitz, Die Alter Wartesaal and Hammerstein's. But for now, here are some personal highlights:

K's 1994 Gesamtkunstwerk of chairs, tables and office furniture detritus, The Happy End of Franz Kafka's America, installed in the second floor atrium, is great. To be sure, it seems a bit more cramped that it was at MOCA LA - this according to curator Ann Goldstein - but its smaller horizontal imprint is more than compensated by the sheer volume of space in the atrium, which allows it to be viewed from various vertical vantage points above.

The floor of the installation is bright Astroturf, reminiscent of a pool or card table or the artificial surface of a football field. MoMA director Glenn Lowry sees it as "infecting the museum" by bleeding acid green into the space when viewed from multiple overhead perspectives.

Not one but two of K's banished-class-clown effigies - Martin, into the corner, you should be ashamed of yourself (1992). Brilliant. The original edition was three, then three more were made on commission. This one was particularly commissioned by MoMA.

Also an orgone box made according to specifications, one layer of organic material (wood) over one layer of inorganic (metal), but not big enough for a person to stand or sit inside. Rather for a stack of paintings, so that they might accumulate more Reichian energy. This piece, one of the many K created in tandem with Albert Oehlen, was slathered in brown paint and oat flakes. I had never seen it before.

Whole walls full of posters (from floor to ceiling) introduce the exhibition in the sixth floor lobby, testimony to K's unceasing (if dour) efforts at sarcastic self promotion.

My favorite: a 1978 b/w poster from Berlin, an image of K embracing an old tramp, with the legend: "1/4 Century of Kippenberger as one of you, among you, with you." A halo of words surrounds K's head with a litany of self definitions: show-off, hyper-voyeur, pretender, informer, organizer, ringleader, longtime painter, big spender.


In situ (just below the show title graphics):

>>>Someone called the show a retrospective. I demurred.<<<

MoMA curator Ann Temkin might take issue with your use of the R-word. In her remarks at the press opening, she indicated the show is not a "true retrospective", as K's varied and copious production could hardly be contained in all of MoMA's galleries, even were they all available, so that his prolific output is "just alluded to" here.

I still go back to K's self definition of 1978 - braggart, ultra peeping tom, pretender, informer, organizer, ringleader, long-time painter, spendthrift - as his personal template of realization. During my time in Cologne twenty years ago, there was one epithet that many in the local art scene fondly threw at Kippie, and at each other, through the drunken haze: Spinner. Which translates variously as nutcase, flake, screwball, crank, weirdo, fruit cake, wacko, oddball.