Jeff Koons’s 1986 stainless steel statue of Louis XIV and Martin Kippenberger’s untitled self-portrait from 1988 are two works of art that, at first sight, seem light years apart. One is a shiny, hand-crafted image of 18th-century elegance and luxury in the form of a metallic bust of the ‘Sun King’. The other is a vast oil portrait of an overweight, middle-aged man in his underpants holding onto a giant balloon in front of a red sculpture. In almost every way, these distinctive works seem to be the opposite of the other. Yet, in spite of this, Kippenberger’s Untitled of 1988 — probably the greatest of his self-portraits — and Koons’s sumptuous Baroque statue of French royalty in the form of a metallic, industrially manufactured knick-knack, are works that, like the artists themselves, have far more in common than surface appearances might first suggest.
Both works are mock-heroic self-portraits with a shared sense of knowing detachment and which address and reflect upon what, in the 1980s, was a new and vastly inflated art world in which the status of the art object and the role of the artist within it was changing fast. Jeff Koons’s Louis XIV is imposing: its gleaming surface accentuates the Baroque forms of the tumbling torrents of hair, the floral incisions on the cuirass, the lace of the cravat. Meanwhile, the monarch’s smirk of confident command lends it an authoritative weight and gravity.
Jeff Koons (b. 1955), Louis XIV, 1986. Stainless steel. 47 5/8 x 28 x 14 3/8 in. (121 x 71.2 x 36.5 cm.) This work is the artist’s proof from an edition of three plus one artist’s proof. Estimate: $10,000,000 — 15,000,000. This work is offered in the Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 13 May.
Executed in 1986, Koons’s sculpture harks back to the age of the Baroque, to the long reign of Louis XIV of France, the ‘Sun King’. At the same time, it is a contemporary masterpiece, an emblem of postmodernism, as is demonstrated by the fact that, of the three casts and artist’s proof, examples are held by the Dakis Joannou Foundation and the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas. The casts have featured in a range of publications and exhibitions, including Koons’s unprecedented and celebrated show at the Palace of Versailles — a place that largely exists due to Louis XIV.
Untitled forms part of Martin Kippenberger’s iconic series of large-scale, mock-heroic self-portraits painted in the summer of 1988, when he and the artist Albert Oehlen lived in a small studio in Carmona just outside Seville. While utterly distinct, the self-portraits painted in Southern Spain, today commonly referred to as the ‘Picasso paintings’, are nevertheless united by their iconography, showing the artist wearing nothing but underwear, frequently standing beside one of his acclaimed Peter sculptures while holding on to the string of a balloon. They demonstrate Kippenberger’s effort to overthrow the outdated idea of the artist genius, proudly portraying himself in the tradition of Albrecht Du¨rer, Rembrandt or Edvard Munch.
Martin Kippenberger (1953 — 1997), Untitled, 1998. Oil on canvas. 95 1/4 x 79 1/2 in. (240 x 200 cm.) Estimate: $15,000,000 — 20,000,000. This work is offered in the Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 13 May.
In Untitled, the then 35-year-old artist presented himself not as a confident, powerful master artist, despite his recent inclusion on the list of invitees to the 1988 Documenta, which had finally gained him international recognition. Instead, Kippenberger opted for another type of portrayal: the artist as the imposing anti-hero, exposing human imperfection as well as a real fear of failure.
In this regard, these two works are as much reflections upon the vanity of their makers as they are upon the vanities and superficialities of the commercialized art world they address. The stainless steel Louis XIV and the man with a balloon both ridicule the posturing and hyperbole of the monetised art scene of the time, through a form of mimicry and mirroring.
Each work in its own way, therefore, stands as a kind of symbol of this confrontation between the artist and the judgements and prejudices of his public. The artist ‘has to be ready to show himself in public... and let everybody gape at him,’ Kippenberger said, ‘but in the end, everything will be made all right by his posturing if, like Warhol, Beuys or Picasso, it is done “with love.”’
Main image: Jeff Koons. Estate of Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
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