What is a Dithyramb?

Mann im Anzug – dithyrambisch II (Man in Suit—Dithyrambic II), 1976. Distemper on canvas, 98 1/2 x 73 1/2 in. Private collection

When you visit the Markus Lüpertz exhibition, you might find yourself asking, “what is the dithyramb?” You’d find that word repeated over and over again on several labels. So let me quote:  he said, “I didn’t want to paint figuratively anymore, so I invented something abstract that is also figurative, a dithyramb.” So, in there you feel the contradiction; he’s challenging us to figure out what he’s saying. He imposes that term on paintings that ostensibly present a tree trunk, roof tiles on a house, a helmet, a traditional cake form in Germany, a stalk of wheat, a man’s suit, such disparate and trivial objects, and again he paints them with authority and drama, instilling their trivialness with importance, or at least the importance of a painted object.

He defies normal expectations; it’s not really a depiction and it’s not figurative, but it’s not abstract. Those are the kind of norms that he’s discarding very vociferously. When we expect things to be part of a landscape, none of them appear outdoors; they seem to inhabit a flat, ill-defined, poster-like environment. That log does not rest in a landscape, it can hardly be described as a still life, is it now a monument? Those are the kinds of questions that he’s prompting us to engage in as we look closely.

I quote Lüpertz again: “the dithyramb was my totally individual contribution to abstraction, abstraction not in the sense of rational analysis or reduction, but as in the invention of a nonsense object.” He embraces riddles and mysteries as fundamental to art. He says, “art survives only in riddles, only in mystery can art’s eternal truth be retained, therefore the artist must be, as Nietzsche demands, a seeker of riddles, because those who seek to solve riddles are many.” The reference to Nietzsche is important because this whole Dionysian poetic term from the poetry of antiquity re-emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the German-speaking world and had a resonance for him.

Dorothy Kosinski, Markus Lüpertz exhibition curator and Phillips Director

Poetry Challenge: The Large Spoon

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 chances and to win.

Markus Lüpertz, Der große Löffel (The Large Spoon), 1982. Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 130 in. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Anne and Sid Bass Fund and gift of Agnes Gund, 1986 © 2017 Markus Lüpertz / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany, Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE:
This piece, a major work by Markus Lüpertz and a large one at about 10 feet wide, is titled Der große Löffel, or The Large Spoon. In a haiku, describe what you see in this work. Reminder: a traditional haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count.

THIS WEEK’S PRIZE: Four tickets to the Markus Lüpertz exhibition.

TO ENTER: Leave your poem in the comments here, or share on social media with #LupertzPoem. We’ll select winners on Friday, June 9.

Blurring the Line Between Drawing and Painting

Installation view of George Condo: The Way I Think. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

What does George Condo mean when he speaks of his “drawing paintings?” We interviewed the artist with this and other questions about his installation at the Phillips, The Way I Think. Have more questions? Join us for a conversation between Condo and Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs Klaus Ottmann on Thursday, May 25.

What are “drawing paintings?”
George Condo: “Drawing paintings” are something that were a reaction to the consistent hierarchy that supposedly exists between drawing and painting. What I wanted to do was combine the two of them and make drawing and painting on the same level, that there was no real difference between drawing and painting and by combining pastel, charcoal, pencil, and all these various different drawing mediums on a canvas, it would be an experience for the viewer to see that drawing and painting together can exist in one—I would say—happy continuum.

How has your drawing evolved over time?
GC: Well, this show gave me a chance to figure that one out. I saw the drawings that my mother had saved from when I was 4 and 5 years old until I was about 7 or 8, and really it was all about doing everything right, and making sure I got it right, and that everything looked precise. And then once I started to understand more of the conceptual qualities of art in the 70’s and the idea of deconstructing things, and reading more about Picasso and John Cage, well at this point you have to do everything wrong. You have to break all the rules. So the evolution went from doing everything right to doing everything wrong, but still trying to make sure that the pictures themselves are intact and that there aren’t any loose ends.

Hear more in a short video: