Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Markus Lüpertz, Promenade, 1963-2014 @ Suzanne Tarasieve Paris

Markus Lüpertz, Promenade, Exhibition View
For an exhibition filled with disformed, disabled figures, all of whom have been violated, their limbs torn off, their genitals erased, I found Promenade  to be a curious choice of title. None of these figures were going anywhere in a hurry, and most of them don’t even try to move. In keeping with their classical inspiration, they are more comfortable in a posture of repose, always standing tall, despite their dismemberment and disability. They are the figures of an anonymous war, in an anonymous space, bearing witness to the vagaries of another world. On approaching Suzanne Tarasieve’s tiny Marais Gallery, one of Lüpertz’s figures stands at the window, ultimately, contemplating its own reflection, removed from the busy Christmas shoppers who fill the streets outside. The figure was haunting.

Markus Lüpertz, Figure at the window Suzanne Tarasieve, Paris

I wondered what an artist so closely associated with Cold War, divided Germany and post-war torn Europe would be doing today. How would Lüpertz respond to a world that is so fundamentally different from the one we knew in the 20th century? The one in which he came of age as an artist? And even though we are meant to see Lüpertz as unique, an individual abstract artist, doing something so radically different from those around him, I was reminded, from beginning to end, of the postwar German neo-Expressionist artists, particularly, the works of Georg Baselitz onexhibition a couple of years ago at the Musée d’art Moderne.

Markus Lüpertz
That said, Lüpertz works in plaster, Baselitz in wood, where Baselitz’s figures are pronounced and proud, but inwardly reflective, Lüpertz’s figures are in the vein of their classical forebearers, giving away little emotion. And I noticed very quickly, there were no women here at Susanne Tarasieve’s gallery, just men, mythical, oversized, deformed, crippled men. Similarly, although they are violated in their own individual ways, quite different from Baselitz’s chiseled bodies, each of Lüpertz’s figures has a history, it’s just that we don’t know what it is, where or when it might have taken place. There is a longing a nostalgia, a sadness that we come to perceive, particularly, as we spend more time with each tortured figure.

markus lupertz centaure 2014
Markus Lüpertz, Centaure, 2014

Many of the figures have metal rods, rusted nails, broken stakes, and shrapnel flung through what remains of their limbs. They are warriors, having fought a war that we know nothing of. They are alone, but give the impression that they are content in their loneliness – because they are the descendants of sculptural perfection, masculine superiority, after Dionysos,  Hercules, Orpheous. But as much as they are warriors, they are mythical figures, not real humans, they are without genitals, with imperfect bodies and blown off faces. They are like an ode to every solider who has lost his body on the battlefield, and been given a traumatized identity in exchange.

"Rückenakt", Michael Werner Kunsthandel
Markus Lüpertz, Ruckenakt, 2004
The most striking thing about the figures in the paintings that surround the sculpted warriors is that their backs are always turned to us. They are not looking, as if to retain their integrity at the other side of their trauma. Like the sculpted figures, the painted ones may descend from greek mythological figures, but they don’t belong in any of the categories that are usually given to sculptural, or painted representations of gods: they are all at once historical and mythical, tribal and from antiquity, they are deformed giants and classical figures, always referring to Germany’s tortured past, and yet, telling a story that belongs to everyone on an intimate level. 

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