January 21 – April 29, 2018
Georg Baselitz (b. 1938) is one of the foremost artists of our time. To mark his eightieth birthday, the Fondation Beyeler will be showing an extensive selection of his work as a painter, sculptor and printmaker. The exhibition, organized in close cooperation with the artist, takes the form of a focused retrospective, bringing together many of the most important paintings and sculptures created by Baselitz over the past six decades. These powerful and exciting works, from every phase of the artist's career, reveal the astonishing range of his creative imagination.
Baselitz is one of the few contemporary artists whose work is deeply rooted in the history of European and American painting. He is seen as the inventor of a figurative pictorial language that draws on a rich repertoire of iconographic and stylistic elements, although these, in his visual inventions, take on conflicting and ambivalent meanings. Baselitz’s artistic cosmos is like a hall of mirrors in which original, remembered and imagined images blend with art-historical models and precedents to form new and striking compositions. The powerful and exciting works in the exhibition, from every phase of the artist's career, reveal the full thematic and stylistic range of his exceptional oeuvre. Key works from the 1960s, with a selection of the Hero and Fracture paintings, will feature in the exhibition, together with examples of the inverted images for which Baselitz became famous in the 1970s and 80s. A selection of the artist's large-format wood sculptures will include his first exercise in this medium: the painted wood piece that caused a political scandal when it was exhibited at the 1980 Venice Biennale. Paintings from the later Remix series and from recent years complete the survey of the work of one of the most original artists of the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries. The retrospective assembles some eighty paintings and ten sculptures from 1959 to the present day, with loans from renowned public and private collections in Europe and the USA.
The exhibition has been organized in cooperation with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, where it will be shown subsequently in a modified form. In parallel with the presentation at the Fondation Beyeler, the Kunstmuseum Basel will be exhibiting a selection of Baselitz's works on paper.
The Big Night Down the Drain, 1962 / 63
A male figure stands out against a dark background. The face appears distorted; the mouth is missing, and only the eyes and the laterally elongated nose are recognizable. The figure clutches a disproportionately enlarged phallus in its left hand. Behind it, a further, indeterminate creature lies on the floor. The title refers to the German expression “alles im Eimer,” meaning everything is “in the bucket,” i.e. lost or ruined. When The Big Night Down the Drain was exhibited for the first time in 1963, it unleashed a major scandal that led to legal proceedings against the artist and his gallerist. The painting was reduced to its supposedly pornographic aspects and condemned as a depiction of “a grotesque masturbating cripple.” The work owed its inspiration to an act of provocation by the Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan, who once gave a public reading with his trouser flies open, thereby demonstrating that a gesture of this kind will distract attention from even the finest poem. The same idea can be applied to Baselitz’s painting—the act of masturbation eclipses all other elements of the picture’s content.
Finger Painting—Eagle, 1972
The work’s title refers to two aspects at once: the painting technique and the motif. Baselitz did indeed use his fingers and the heel of his hand to apply the color in this picture, and in his other so-called Finger Paintings. The direct contact between the hand, the paint, and the canvas points to the sensual and tactile quality of the painting process. Baselitz deliberately chooses the eagle as a motif because it conjures up a variety of associations and is loaded with symbolic significance. The eagle, the “king of the skies,” is an archetypal image of strength, vision and courage. This recurrent motif in Baselitz’s oeuvre has a provocative intention: next to the lion, it is the animal most frequently used as a national emblem. The image of the plummeting eagle is inverted, with an unsettling effect that disconcerts the viewer. Baselitz does not invert the canvas after completing the picture: instead, the image is composed and painted upside down from the outset. This has a noticeable impact in highlighting the pure act of painting.
Mrs. Ultramarine, 2004
In every phase of his oeuvre, Baselitz has been interested in the depiction of himself and his own body. This is evident in the pair of larger-than-life sculptures shown here, which are grotesque, and certainly ironic, portrayals of the artist and his wife Elke. Do the wristwatches allude to the passing of time, which can also be observed in the aging process of the human body? The sheer size of the figures places the viewer in a relationship to them and to his or her own body. Their monumental scale gives us the feeling of being watched, and makes it more difficult to enter into a dialogue with them. The conspicuous marks and notches left by the carving are evidence of the tools, and physical effort, involved in making the work. Like all of Baselitz’s sculptures, the figures are cut from a single tree trunk, and the details are fashioned with a chainsaw. The baseball cap was a promotional gift from the paint manufacturer that supplied Baselitz with his materials for many years. The same motif of the cap, bearing the ambiguous «ZERO», is found in the nearby painting Mein well reum richt macht (Baf ell we rill), 2013.
Avignon ade, 2017
At the 2015 Venice Biennale, Baselitz presented eight monumental self-portraits in an open octagonal space. The naked body of the artist, marked by signs of age, is depicted in bright colors that contrast with the black ground. The series was given the title Avignon—a reference to the exhibition of unappreciated late works by Picasso held in Avignon in 1973, shortly after the artist’s death. In the painting Avignon ade, from 2017, the color is more restrained, and the body is divided into two halves. The idea came from a dream in which the artist saw himself as a painted nude, bisected like a tree split down the middle with an axe. The vertical line between the two unequal halves of the body creates a sharp sense of tension. The torn-off foot that touches the upper edge of the picture recalls the severed limbs in the pictures from 1963 that are shown in Room 1 of this exhibition.
Baselitz began to work from photographs as early as 1969. Such is the case here in Bedroom, which he painted in 1975 with bold, glowing colors and rapid brushstrokes. In an interview conducted in 2014, the artist recalls: “With the inversion of the motif, I started to make occasional use of existing images, because I realized that I tended to get the perspective wrong when painting upside down. At that time, I hadn’t yet learned to think in such abstract terms. So I took Polaroids or photos. […] Elke sat on the bed. I sat on the bed. We took pictures of each other. I still have them.”
Portrait of Elke I, 1969
Ten years after the early expressive portrait of his fellow-artist Winfried Dierske—Win. D. (Room 1)— Baselitz again chose models from his immediate circle: his wife Elke and his long-standing associates Franz Dahlem and Michael Werner. The portraits in the resulting series are executed in a pseudo-naturalistic style. In Portrait of Elke I, the figure largely dominates the painting’s aesthetic organization. The depiction of Elke herself shows a lightness and poetry that correspond to the classical ideal of portraiture. In subsequent years, Baselitz continued to refine the portrait of his wife, steadily reducing the degree of naturalism in the representation of the body. Through the device of inverting the image, he makes it possible to free the picture from the motif.
The Cross, 1964
A blood-red heart hangs in front of a rust-brown cross, with a rural scene unfolding in the background—an allusion to the village of Deutschbaselitz, the artist’s birthplace. Inside the heart a human face is discernible, with its eyebrows narrowed, staring toward the viewer and involving him or her in the world of the picture. To the left of the face, a dismembered male phallus, resembling a worm, is seemingly trying to enter the picture and overcome the cross. In the top right-hand corner, Baselitz has included—for the first time in his oeuvre—an inverted motif. Here we see an image of the mill known as the Entenmühle, near Deutschbaselitz, painted upside down. The cross with arms of (almost) equal length suggests a reference to the Russian Suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich. Like Malevich in his late period, Baselitz goes beyond mere formal abstraction and seeks, by the use of figurative elements, to initiate a new beginning in painting.
Events and Tips
Artist Talks: Georg Baselitz
The German painter, graphic artist and sculptor Georg Baselitz is one of the most significant artists of our time. The talk is sold out. It was streamed live on Facebook.
The exhibition «Georg Baselitz» is being supported by: