Georg Baselitz (*1938)
Born Hans-Georg Kern in 1938, Georg Baselitz grew up in Saxony, an area that later became the GDR. He studied painting at the Academy of Art in East Berlin (1956) but he was expelled after two terms for ‘political immaturity’. He then applied to study at the Academy in West Berlin and moved there in 1957, completing his studies in 1962. During this period he adopted the surname Baselitz, refl ecting his birthplace Deutschbaselitz.
In searching for alternatives to the strongly narrative art of Social Realism and abstract painting, he became interested in art considered to be outside of the mainstream of Modernism and in imagery that was rooted in the Art Brut. He was also inspired by Existentialist art and literature, by Dada and Surrealism.
In 1963 Baselitz’s fi rst solo exhibition at Galerie Werner & Katz, Berlin, caused a public scandal and two paintings were confi scated by the German authorities who claimed that they were publicly indecent.
After a scholarship in Florence in 1965, Baselitz embarked on a series of paintings depicting monumental male figures, which he described as Rebels, Shepherds or ‘New Types’. Viewed within the Romantic tradition, they are often regarded as outsiders associated with the fi gure of the artist. These paintings are often referred to as the ‘Hero’ series. Baselitz depicted his fi gures within mythical, ruined landscapes, each with symbolic attributes to identify their individual characters, often with exaggerated and exposed sexual organs. The lone fi gure as a prophet or saint also alludes to soldiers returning home from WWII.
The ‘Fracture’ paintings of the late 1960s revealed Baselitz’s keen interest in forests, rural landscapes, woodsmen and hunters. The works were divided into segments so that the imagery could be reorganised pictorially. In 1969, he decided to create and display work upside down in order to re-focus the viewer on the painterly merits of the pictures.
By attempting to overcome the representational, content-driven character of his earlier work, this also enabled him to emphasise the abstract qualities of the composition.
Since the early 1980s he has made monumental sculptures of fi gures and heads with rudimentary and deliberately irregular forms. He uses wood because “it enables avoidance of any attractiveness of form, any craft or elegance … objects in wood are unique, simple, unpretentious”. Having spent most of the early 1970s apparently working outside the mainstream, by the 1980s he had established an international reputation (cemented by exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale in 1980 and ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ in 1981). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the canvases became denser and more heavily worked, and subject matter returned to play a greater role. He began introducing motifs from Slavic folk art, sometimes combining motifs with fi gures of family members taken from old photographs. The subjects of German Romanticism and Socialist Realism inspired his more recent work.
In 2005 Baselitz introduced the ‘Remix’ in his work, in which he has returned to key phases of his own art history and made new versions of his work, which have allowed him to revisit and excavate the past, pushing his own painterly vocabulary to create original new works.
He lives and works in Germany and Italy.
Exhibitions and Distinctions (Selection)
Frieder Burda Museum, Baden-Baden
Museum der Moderne, Salzburg
Kunsthalle Würth, Schwäbisch-Hall
Royal Academy of Arts, London
Retrospective at Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek. Remix works at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
Praemium Imperiale Tokyo. Retrospective at Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic Germany, Bonn. Laureate of the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence
Lower-Saxon State Award. Large exhibition at the Albertina,Vienna
Honorary academian at the Academy of Fine Arts, Krakow
Honorary professorship at Royal Academy of Arts in London Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Large Retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculptures Garden, Washington and at Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zürich and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
Awarded Kaiserring (Emperor’s Ring) by the city of Goslar. Art Prize of the Norddeutsche Landesbank, Hannover
(also from 1992-2003) professorship at the Berlin Academy of Arts
Shows his first sculpture at the German Pavillon of the Venice Biennale
Professorship at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe
Retrospectives at the Kunsthalle Bern, the Staatsgalerie of Modern Art in Munich and the Kunsthalle Köln
First museum exhibition in the Kupferstichkabinett, Museum of Arts, Basel
First motif reversal with Der Wald auf dem Kopf (The wood on its head)
First exhibition in Werner & Katz gallery, Berlin and confiscation of his work Die große Nacht im Eimer (the big night down the drain) by the public prosecutor’s office, on grounds of sexual lewdness
Baselitz Remix, ed. by Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 2006
Georg Baselitz—Paintings 1962-2001, ed. by Detlev Gretenkort, Milan, 2002
Georg Baselitz, Manifeste und Texte zur Kunst 1966—2000, Bern 2001
Georg Baselitz, ed. by Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1992
Georg Baselitz, Andreas Frantzke, München, 1988
Baselitz—Peintre-Graveur, Werkverzeichnis der Druckgraphik, Fred Jahn, Johannes Gachnang,Vol. I: 1963—1974,Vol. 2: 1974—1982, Basel, Berlin 1983, 1987