Passion, Expression, and Physicality

Installation view of the Markus Lüpertz exhibition at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

When Markus Lüpertz began his career, there were many trends and movements dominating the arts in West Germany. On the one hand, there was the persistence of large-scale German abstraction. Unlike Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning in the US, many German abstract painters created very sleek, crisp compositions that were often devoid of the more expressive and emotional language of the Abstract Expressionists. The Zero movement, founded by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, was even more overt in its opposition to emotion and expression. More aligned with Minimalism and Arte Povera, the Zero artists largely abandoned traditional painting in favor of non-traditional, industrially produced materials, creating art that explored light and movement. The typological photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who began working in the sixties, came to influence a generation of art photographers who adopted the Bechers’ cool, rational style. International movements like Pop Art and Fluxus became increasingly popular in Germany at this time as well, challenging the relevance of traditional painting. Lüpertz, along with a handful of other artists with whom he is often associated) like Georg Baselitz and Eugen Schönebeck), was therefore unique in his contrarian commitment to expressive, ambitious, and challenging painting. As one German critic in the eighties put it, “the qualities [Lüpertz] praised were no longer rationalism, clear lines, smooth surfaces, but passion, expressivity, physicality and visionary forms and content, which leads to myth.” (Elke von Radziewsky).

Max Rosenberg, 2016-17 UMD-Phillips Collection Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art

Poetry Challenge: What’s the Story?

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.

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

THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE:
What’s going on in Markus Lüpertz’s Mann im Anzug – dithyrambisch II (Man in Suit—Dithyrambic II)? Write a poem describing the story behind this work.

THIS WEEK’S PRIZE: A Dual/Family Membership to The Phillips Collection

TO ENTER: Leave your poem in the comments here, or share on social media with #LupertzPoem. We’ll select winners on Friday, July 21.

**UPDATE: There was a tie for the winning poem! They are:

Submitted by J.C. Thomas:
He wanted to feel blue
And hear the way he felt
Clenched fists and
Tighter neckties
Drowning out the sky
He imagined to be blue
He wanted to feel blue
And see the way he felt
An open book
Without words
He wanted to feel blue

Submitted by Karla Daly:
Save the Man for a Different Painting

It’s a fine suit, after all,
notched lapel, long vest,
Cerulean sheen.

The man, a mere suggestion,
hands of putty,
a swipe of a head.
A body, if there were one,
in motion.

So let us get back
to the impatient suit
not waiting for a man
to give it purpose.
A suit passing you
on the sidewalk,
a whiff of cedar and spice.
It whispers
hushed dining room,
side entrance,
embassy chamber with thick walls.

Save the man for a different painting.
Ask the tree trunk in mid-air,
indifferent to the ground.

Installing an Exhibition with Markus Lüpertz

Markus Lüpertz with Phillips director and exhibition curator Dorothy Kosinski. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

We interviewed Phillips director and Markus Lüpertz exhibition curator Dorothy Kosinski about her recent time working with the artist to install the exhibition:

I’m excited to be able to share my recent experience with Markus Lüpertz as I worked with him to install the exhibition. It was a truly exhilarating experience to have the opportunity to get inside the artist’s head. It was fascinating to me, an art historian, who thinks in terms of progression and chronological orders, that none of that was important for Markus Lüpertz. In fact, to the contrary, he wandered through the gallery once, twice, three times, and changed the position of every object in the show. As he said to me, he was looking for an optical order. It had to do with robust juxtapositions of colors, of shapes, of small canvases and big canvases. So, contrary to most exhibits in the Phillips, or in most museums, the visitor, my dear, will be disappointed if you’re looking for the early works, the middle works, and the late works. Instead, you can go in any direction in this exhibit because he deliberately intermixes all of the works from those five decades of his very rich career.

So you might then ask, why? Is he trying to provoke us? Surely, but it is also an installation methodology that reflects his fundamental aesthetic philosophy. He and I were talking about this during his visit; his work is never about a style. A lot of people in the contemporary art world could say, “Aha! That’s a Kiefer,” or “Aha! That’s a Baselitz.” Their works are wonderful, he was quick to point out, but they’re very recognizable. As you walk through our galleries, you’ll see it’s not about a style, it’s not about consistency, it’s not about a kind of consistent progression. It’s surely teasing us, challenging us to think about, “what is this object?”

Lüpertz is trying to bring us forward, allow us a way of seeing our world. He said every time he paints a painting, he’s starting from the beginning, and by that he was talking about starting from the sort of infancy of his artistic practice, that every time he paints a painting it’s a voyage of discovery. He is never satisfied, he is returning again and again often to the same subjects, it’s a serious and eternal challenge that he grasps every time he takes paintbrush to canvas. I’m willing to bet that before the end of this exhibit, we get comments from our visitors about the lighting. “You forgot to light the canvases!” And I want to assure everyone that, again, this is the desire and direction of the artist himself. He moved those light canisters with his silver-tipped cane, trying to give us a sense of the quality of light that he desired. Not spotlighting the canvases but rather illuminating the wall around the canvases so that the canvas had a kind of even light, rather than a kind of artificial drama, and as you’ll see, the works in the show are filled with drama. They’re dramatic enough that we don’t have to try to stage them, and I think that that’s his point.

Dorothy Kosinski, Phillips Director and curator of Markus Lüpertz