Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)
Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)

Keiner hilft Keinem (Nobody Helps Nobody)

Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)
Keiner hilft Keinem (Nobody Helps Nobody)
oil and graphite on canvas
94½ x 78¾in. (240 x 200cm.)
Painted in 1988
Galería Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989.
Madrid, Galería Juana de Aizpuru, Martin Kippenberger Albert Oehlen Obras recientes, 1989 (illustrated in colour, p. 14).
Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst, ZKA Karlsruhe, Martin Kippenberger das 2. Sein, 2003 (illustrated in colour, p. 78).

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Louisa Robertson
Louisa Robertson

Lot Essay

'I'm a member of the Lord Jim Lodge, and I've adopted its motto, 'Nobody helps Anybody', as a law for myself. Be nice to people on the way up - you'll meet them again on the way down. Life is easier if you don't set your standards too high. Art is the highest of the emotions' (M. Kippenberger, quoted in P. Hill, 'The Pubescent Shelves of Martin Kippenberger', pp. 19-21, Art + Text, No. 44, January 1993, p. 21).

A swirling maelstrom of imagery fills Keiner hilft Keinem (Nobody Helps Nobody) - in amongst the flowing ribbons of paint, a chair, the logo of the Copacabana Palace hotel, a clenched fist, a cartoon character holding balloons and various other elements can be discerned, plunging us into the deliberately chaotic world of Martin Kippenberger. Keiner hilft Keinem was exhibited in Madrid in 1989 at the exhibition that Kippenberger shared with Albert Oehlen, where they both showed their recent works. These had been painted during the months that they had spent living in Spain, both in Madrid and in Carmona, near Seville. During that time, Kippenberger had created a string of 'Balloon Pictures', many of them overt or oblique self-portraits, including Keiner hilft Keinem, which had been painted in 1988.

As was always the case with Kippenberger's multi-pronged assault on the art world, his own persona was the unifying element of his arsenal. Some of the pictures that Kippenberger painted in 1988 showed a clear image of the artist himself, often comically bloated and wearing over-sized underpants in a disparaging reference to David Douglas Duncan's iconic photograph of Pablo Picasso as an old man, standing in his underwear accompanied by his Afghan hound Kaboul. In making these references to the cult of personality that had surrounded Picasso, one of the founding fathers of modern art, Kippenberger was deliberately and provocatively chiselling away at the elevated status sometimes accorded to or assumed by the artist, knocking the pedestal upon which people place revered painters and gleefully toppling himself in the process.

Keiner hilft Keinem serves as a self-portrait by proxy: the cartoon figure shown clutching a bunch of balloons recalls some of Kippenberger's other depictions of himself from this period. He is presenting himself in a comic, oblique manner, seemingly undermining the entire notion of self-portraiture as a vehicle for self-presentation. However, the flotsam-like accumulation of surrounding imagery also make references to his own life, work and concepts. The presence of the balloons, vulnerable and playful, add a sense of his own fragility while also echoing his works entitled Das Ende der Avantgarde, which took their near-minimalist geometric ovoid form and anchored it in the world of childhood and whimsy. At the same time, the presence of the crest of the Copacabana Palace recalls his own trip to Brazil a few years earlier. While that ornate logo crowns this composition, albeit shown at a rakish angle, at the bottom appears another emblem with text underneath. This is the 'Sonne Busen Hammer' (sun, breasts, hammer) logo of the Lord Jim Lodge, a group of which Kippenberger and Oehlen were founder members, alongside Jörg Schlock and Wolfgang Bauer.

The Lord Jim Lodge was an unconventional secret society with the motto 'Keiner hilft Keinem', or 'Nobody helps nobody'. The quixotic, media-savvy yet knowingly impossible quest of this society: to make its own logo more famous than Coca Cola. Within a short time, the 'Sonne Busen Hammer' symbol would appear in the works of several of the artists, and it reappears through Kippenberger's subsequent paintings and plastic work alike. In addition to its presence in some of his pictures, in 1991, Kippenberger created two standing sculptures displaying this motif which served as markers for an entrance to the Lord Jim Lodge in an installation in the Taschen offices. Meanwhile, the doors to the fictitious underground railway network, the METRO-Net, which Kippenberger created, uniting various key points of interest and occurrence in his own life, were also emblazoned with the Sun and Hammer.

This link to Kippenberger's secret and invisible underground railway introduces a key concept that underpinned much of his work: the exploration and exposure of the flaws of utopian visions. Having grown up in a divided Germany, Kippenberger was deeply suspicious of the seemingly-earnest promises of progress that were made either by political bodies or indeed by artists such as Joseph Beuys. Rather than retain a cynical distance though, Kippenberger immersed himself in the fray, introducing his own irreverent iconography as an emblem hinting at some promise of a better future in its own right. The idea of highlighting these flawed utopian visions, the new ways of living and even of thinking that had underpinned modernist architecture, post-war politics and modern art alike, was a driving force in Kippenberger's work, for instance in his series of works entitled Psychobuildings, created during the same period that Keiner hilft Keinem was painted. In Keiner hilft Keinem, Kippenberger's assault upon these themes and dreams of social improvement and engineering is clear: the logo of the Lord Jim Lodge deliberately apes the iconography of Communism, as does the clenched fist that is visible in the upper left. Kippenberger's Keiner hilft Keinem, then, illuminates the fact that no workable utopia underlies this picture's own fragmentary iconography; in this way, Kippenberger liberates us from the beliefs and illusions of the world around us, or at least invites us to join him in scoffing at them.

Kippenberger's Keiner hilft Keinem is itself a deliberately flawed self-portrait, remaining elusive enough that it challenges our own notions of what art should be and how it should function. In all these ways, then, Keiner hilft Keinem is a mysteriously emancipatory work, a zone of freedom and possibility: its very opacity, its highly personalised and obfuscating iconography, is the key that unlocks at least a glimpse of Kippenberger's intentions. Jutta Koether has explained:

'You can't deliberately set about to understand Kippenberger's art in the sense of breaking his work down into its component parts, as you could with that of the new American artists... He is not a super-annuated troublemaker like Oehlen or Penck; he works a great deal more hectically and hyperactively with a special kind of humour, simply in order to demand what should have been the artist's right throughout the centuries: not to be treated too lightly' (Kippenberger, quoted in P. Hill, 'The Pubescent Shelves of Martin Kippenberger', pp. 19-21, Art + Text, No. 44, January 1993, p. 20).

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