Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective
Museum of Contemporary Art
Los Angeles
Through Jan. 5, 2009

Until his death of cancer in 1997 at age 44, Martin Kippenberger was the bad boy of the Berlin art scene, said Eric Banks in Men’s Vogue. He drank heavily—even ran a bar for a while—and created prankish artworks in every conceivable form. “Not content to churn out sculpture and paintings, he issued a mishmash of artists’ books, posters, records, and, most famously, a running diary of drawings on hotel stationery.” Kippenberger enjoyed poking fun at the culture around him. “Everything was fodder for Kippenberger—B-film stars, highbrow literature, booze, bumper stickers.” The expansive new exhibition at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art introduces viewers to Kippenberger the “enigmatic gadfly” but also to Kippenberger “the great artist.” Several searing images here explore the artist’s own complicated self-hatred. One self-portrait shows the artist in intensive care; in another, he imagined himself as a crucified frog holding a beer stein.

At its best, Kippenberger’s art taps a “deep and profound abjection,” said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. The wickedly clever Santa Claus Lamp (1994), for instance, shows the jolly elf seemingly decked out in drag, with a bright red light bulb in his head “suggesting both the red nose of reindeer Rudolph and of a cartoon Skid Row drunk.” But just as often Kippenberger’s creations were “sophomoric,” and the 250 works in this enormous exhibition include far too many “wince-inducing” ones. One sculpture consists of eight sections of a blue Ford hung side by side on a wall. Another mainly involves oversize sculptures of pills. Kippenberger died young, so “we’ll never know” what artistic heights he might have reached. This unprecedented retrospective admirably presents this fascinating, frustrating artist “warts and all.”