Installation view of the Markus Lüpertz installation. Photo: Lee Stalsworth.
In the sixties, when Markus Lüpertz began his career, the arts in Germany were in a tenuous situation. After World War II, critics and artists in the new West German state had embraced abstraction. Artists like Willi Baumeister and Ernst Wilhelm Nay created totally abstract compositions that were distinct from, but also connected to, international trends in the United States and France. Yet, while there are indeed broader historical implications to Abstract Expressionism in the US and Informel in France, the avoidance of representational imagery in West Germany came to be viewed in the decades following the war, as an avoidance of history itself. Artists spoke of a “year zero” and often created primordial looking abstract forms that appeared outside of history, as though going back to some mythic beginning or abstract, pre-historical origin could escape the trauma and horror of Nazism and the Second World War.
Max Rosenberg, UMD-Phillips Collection Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art
Installation view of the Markus Lüpertz exhibition. At center is Il corvo che filosofa (The Raven Philosopher), 1990.
Of all living painters, Markus Lüpertz resembles most closely what in German is called a Künstler-Philosoph, an artist-philosopher. The term was first used by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for his vision of a higher concept of art, one that is essentially “a metaphysical activity.” For Nietzsche, art and philosophy thus are intertwined. He once said that “in all of philosophy, what is missing until now is the artist.” Lüpertz, who in his paintings and in his own writings refers frequently to Nietzsche, has insisted that there is a distinction between philosophers and artists: the former questions the world, while the latter questions itself. Yet, like Nietzsche’s expanded vision of art, Lüpertz’s paintings straddle the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the idealized world of representation through form and beauty on the one hand, and the contradictions and pain of human existence on the other.
Lüpertz’s painting The Raven Philosopher, composed as a studio still life with various props, depicts a symbol of melancholy as much as wisdom. Like the black bird in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven,” Lüpertz’s philosophizing raven depicts both death and beauty, and it could be read a portrait of the artist.
But ultimately, as an artist who compels us to see his representational paintings as mere abstractions, Lüpertz insists that “in painting the truth can only be the canvas, the paint itself.”
Klaus Ottmann, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs
In addition to being an artist, Markus Lüpertz was a poet. Throughout the exhibition, share your Lüpertz-inspired poems with us to win prizes. Every other week, we’ll issue a new poetry challenge based on images or themes in the exhibition for fresh inspiration and chances to win.
(left) Stil: Eins-Zehn VII – große Form mit Linie 2 (Style: One-Ten VII—Large Shape with Line 2), 1977. Oil and distemper on canvas, 63 3/4 x 51 1/4 in. Private collection (right) Arkadien – Der hohe Berg (Arcadia—The High Mountain), 2013. Mixed media on canvas, 51 1/4 x 63 3/4 in. Private collection
THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE:
These paintings, both by Lüpertz, were created 36 years apart (1977 and 2013, respectively). Imagine the two works are having a conversation. What might they say? Describe in a short poem.
THIS WEEK’S PRIZE: Two tickets to Phillips after 5: Punk Out on July 6, 2017.
TO ENTER: Leave your poem in the comments here, or share on social media with #LupertzPoem. We’ll select winners on Friday, June 23.