The arrival of Markus Lupertz to Washington D.C. was a watershed moment for the artists of Washington D.C. but, alas, another visit to the Road Show D.C. came and went, in passive silence.
Although two of Washington’s most noted museums featured their main stages for such a World renown figure in European art,[ a feat in itself] hardly a word scrambled amid the local scene. I found it odd, no big stir. Lupertz has been shown with the greats of post war Germany, -Peck, Keifer, Richter..but never in this country, in a large noted space. Not too much excitement here. Why?
Lupertz is rare. A man who proclaims he sits a the “table of painters throughout history” and explores his work accordingly, his lifelong path he kept, intensely determined — no matter where it lead. Painting to him is supreme..”a way of explaining the world, painting makes the world viable/divine, ..painting explains the world on Earth….” And as virtuously and as vigorously he painted, as if he were a on a mission/deal to be kept with God, it is fascinating to see how he kept his bargain of” Nietzsche Metaphysical” demand, his decisively high bar standards. He quotes his philosophy through out his artist career as it bends and breaks forward. Indeed he has been seen as a “Kunstler-Philosoph”, an artist -philosopher as his work straddles the gap between the the Apollonian world of form and beauty and on the other hand, the Dionysian – the contradictions of the pain of human existence. His challenge was self determined.. the viewer, in turn, is challenged to wonder if he kept his own designated agenda or “vision”. Or if he succeeded? The results are for the viewer to struggle with.
Here is a man who sensed the need to mythologize himself into himself for his own bearing. Unlike other artists, no one was to do it for him. The propositions he set for himself are very high minded, even classically pretentious or godly impossible. We are drawn to his work as a test of personal standard as a dare to succeed, this is a dualism he consistently sets up… one of many reverberations we, his viewers, may test for the results and the work is a result of such propositions.
His earlier work, as seen in the larger galleries of the Hirshorn, are large colorful paintings of tents. Brightly, colorful tents in perhaps a dessert. These are large paintings are not on canvas or with oil or noticeable artist paint. They are on some sort of affordable industrial “Kraft” paper painted with what is known as a “distemper” or chalky commercial poster paint. He was working for a poster company at the time and wisely “borrowed” some paint. He would continue this borrowing for some time…until he got older and more successful. The brilliant wide, large depictions of various tents are as much a design as an actual representations of colorful tents. Indeed, a question of how to represent and at the same time let “ artfulness of the object” of the tents shine forth, let the aesthetic of the object and at the same time represent the tent as more than a tent is a rattling visual experience. How to handle the brightness and cover the large space so as to be a tent and more than a tent is a rampant dualism that characterizes his work forward. But the images are striking.
At the Phillips, we see his maturation process a fore our very eyes. He makes a quest for “pure art” but is always swept up in the infernal process of being on Earth, so he bestrides this dualism constantly. He is entangled with the figure at the same time he sees it as a process of painting. He reveals in paint, or the act of painting as itself an act of sharing perception and at the same time he uncovers familiarity with objects around him and nature. He makes the argument for the total destruction visually of the confining critical restraint decryption of what has been seen as Abstract and what is corralled under the realm of Realism. In Lupertz, they are neither. A picture/image. They pass back and forth into oblivion of object/not object. His obsession with volume, mass, the paint can almost be seen as cultural sculptural management. But this IS idea to him, in his painterly language is “completely at the table of painters” so he is in the history house of art, acknowledges that and recoils from it. Constantly going to and fro on his canvass and in our minds in his mind. Does one blow smoke in the company of Leonardo or Rembrandt? Hope not.
His dealing with contemporary artists is not passive, but he does stand with it. His objects/visual are in motion, familiar to our psyches but not our ready brain. He dances between art it self, as a power, and the horrible of modern German history. Unable to wrest himself entirely from history, from his celestial palace of art, he is slammed to social reality of Germany. Not unlike his contemporaries, he wrestles with the stinking dead Nazi rat wafting up through history’s floorboards, as it is all around him. He depicts Nazi helmets slugged with paint to pacify them as design still life. His forty foot long painting of the geometrically arranged battlements of the Siegfried Line dominate a gallery wall as if it were a Renaissance perspective project. The object is not important to Lupertz as much as the “artfulness of the object.” Perhaps we can see it better filtered through his paint, he stakes his life on that struggle. I think it is obvious as it was to older German painters like Beckman or Dix… I, however, do not think it is obvious to Washington. The courage of the Hirshorn and Phillips, in this light, is to be congratulated.
Although Mr. Lupertz is a dapper man, with a silver tipped cane, beautifully trimmed devil beard and jaunty hat, impressive art cred for a seventy four year old man, he is not cool. At least in Washington eyes. He is painfully analog, not digital. His concerns were largely those of the passed by twentieth century where inevitably his identity is enshrined. He actually dares to speak of painters with power, with moral struggle, with ethical calling and a genuine love of art. Of beauty. He refers to our age now as the “twilight of the Gods…” a period of “blindness”. “Without painting, the world is only consumed, not perceived…painting sees the inner world. Painting is culture and who says culture says the substance of the world. And painting provides the vocabulary to perceive the world.” Now, who thinks and paints like that?
Al Jirikowic, Washington Editor
Volume 32 no.2 November/December 2017 pp30-31