MARTIN KIPPENBERGER (1953-1997)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
MARTIN KIPPENBERGER (1953-1997)

Ohne Titel (Aus der Serie 'Fred the Frog') (Untitled (from the 'Fred the Frog' series))

Details
MARTIN KIPPENBERGER (1953-1997)
Ohne Titel (Aus der Serie 'Fred the Frog') (Untitled (from the 'Fred the Frog' series))
signed and dated 'Kippenberger 90' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
94½ x 78 5/8in. (240 x 199.5cm.)
Painted in 1990
Provenance
Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne.
Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in April 1996.
Exhibited
Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Martin Kippenberger, Fred the Frog: rings the bell, once a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns, 1991, p. 85 (illustrated in colour, p. 19).
New York, Metro Pictures, Martin Kippenberger, 1994.
Klosterneuburg, Sammlung Essl - Kunst der Gegenwart, Sammlung Essl - first view, 1999, p. 387 (illustrated in colour, p. 268).
Klosterneuburg, Sammlung Essl - Kunst der Gegenwart, Permanent 01, 2000-2002..
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘The artist’s cross – that is to say, the cross the artist has to bear – is not meant in a blasphemous sense, let alone as sacrificial image. On the contrary, the artist’s cross is the challenging dialectic of give-and-take, bearable only with irony’ (M. Hermes, ‘Fred the Frog, 1988’, Nach Kippenberger, exh. cat., Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, 2003, p. 131).

Painted in 1990, Martin Kippenberger’s Ohne Titel (Aus der Serie ‘Fred the Frog’) (Untitled (from the ‘Fred the Frog’ series)) stems from the artist’s seminal Fred the Frog series, one of his most important and controversial sequence of works. Part selfportrait, part conceptual tableau, the artist’s clenched hands appear to be crushing his alter-ego Fred the Frog. Emblazoning the word ‘dankeschön’ (‘thank you’) across the bottom of the work, Kippenberger takes his sardonic curtain call. Executed on a dramatic scale, word and image collide in a fervent display of painterly gesture: rich streaks of impasto and a caustic application of colour conspire to interrupt, overwrite and disfigure Kippenberger’s motivic play. Created between 1988 and 1991, the Fred the Frog series gave rise to one of Kippenberger’s most poignant and subversive artistic personas. Fred the Frog, exposed to the world upon a crucifix, represented an extension of his publicly-projected image, alongside others such as the Eggman, Kafka and Pablo Picasso. In Ohne Titel (Aus der Serie ‘Fred the Frog’), the frog and the cross are enigmatically concealed within the work’s composition, broken and divided by a cacophony of competing symbolism that serves to reinforce Kippenberger’s wry stereotype of the artist as performing jester. The concept of Fred the Frog on the cross encapsulates Kippenberger’s problematic relationship with his status as an artist – a dialogue that underpins his oeuvre. The anthropomorphic fairytale prince becomes an irreverent twist on the age-old image of the suffering artist, the self-sacrificing victim of his public. It is an image that taps into the very essence of Kippenberger, the self-titled ‘holy Saint Martin’ and leading actor upon the stage of his own making. Kippenberger’s enduring dialogue with his artistic self-image is embodied in provocative concept of the crucified frog awaiting his release, be it from a princess or from a deity. The presence of the cross introduced the old idea of the artist as a martyr, and Kippenberger grants the notion a new level of irreverence with Fred the Frog, an absurd cartoonish character who recalls the Frog Prince of Germanic folklore. In a deliberate act of artistic sacrilege, Kippenberger has placed his frog persona on the crucifix: the central icon of Christianity. Condemned upon on the cross of his own art, the frog presents an image of desecration to an audience whose cries of adulation are only the precursors to vitriolic jeers. As Manfred Hermes has written, ‘the artist’s cross – that is to say, the cross the artist has to bear – is not meant in a blasphemous sense, let alone as sacrificial image. On the contrary, the artist’s cross is the challenging dialectic of give-and-take, bearable only with irony’ (M. Hermes, ‘Fred the Frog, 1988’ in Nach Kippenberger, exh. cat., Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, 2003, p. 131).

In the present work, the image of the crucified frog is reduced to a set of bare signifiers, seemingly crushed by the artist’s hands, effaced by its own creator. As consolidated in his Hand- Painted Pictures series of 1992, hands were an important motif for Kippenberger, teasingly invoking the auratic supremacy and creative authority that history had ascribed to the artist’s hand. The fractured image of Fred plays in counterpoint with the outline of a canary, a compositional red herring that obscures the crucified frog. Laced with its own layers of art-historical wit, the presence of the canary within Kippenberger’s oeuvre represents a consciously comedic subversion of Georg Baselitz’s grand eagle. As Gregory Williams explains, ‘[Kippenberger] takes a dig at German artists like Markus Lüpertz and Georg Baselitz, who denied that their militaristic motifs (boots, helmets, guns, eagles) were meant to be read as anything other than empty formal supports for the practice of painting… In doing so, Kippenberger conveys an unmistakable sense of comedic timing’ (G. Williams, ‘Jokes Interrupted: Martin Kippenberger’s Receding Punch Line’ in Martin Kippenberger, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2006, p. 46). Throughout his oeuvre, Kippenberger has rejoiced in transforming the picture plane into an arena for his own enigmatic play, establishing an irresolvable dialogue with the viewer through his elusive juxtaposition of motifs. In the present work, the artist’s hands perform an act of genetic mutation: frog, canary and crucifix merge into one eclectic and indecipherable form.

The Fred the Frog series was completed during a significant period within Kippenberger’s career, during which he spent a great deal of time in Los Angeles. His sister Susanne Kippenberger recalls how the inspiration for the series derived from this new milieu: ‘America was a treasure trove for Martin … [it] was the source of the stickers Martin plastered all over his paintings (“I love …”), the “Don’t Wake Daddy” board game, the “Fred the Frog” character in old Bermuda shorts’ (S. Kippenberger, Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families, Berlin 2007, p. 371). His time in America was also one of great productivity. ‘He created lots of sculptures there, his latex pictures, and his “Fred the Frog” series of paintings … he met John Caldwell, curator of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at the Luhring Augustine Hetzler Gallery, and asked him whether he would finally get an exhibition … No curator had ever said yes to him so spontaneously’ (S. Kippenberger, Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families, Berlin 2007, p. 385). The exhibition took place in 1991, the year after the present work, featuring an extensive interview in which Kippenberger eloquently expressed the complexity of his own artistic selfimage. ‘It’s L.A. It’s the beginning and the end, uh, rhythm, of life too!’ he exclaimed. ‘Everything a film! Where’ve I gotten to now? To the middle of the film, and I realize that I’m just not made for this chief part’ (M. Kippenberger, quoted in Martin Kippenberger: I Had a Vision, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, 1991, pp. 35-37). In a manner typical of Kippenberger, however, this self-deprecation is interwoven with a bombastic envisioning of himself in roles ranging from actor to pastor, writer to shepherd. It is this double portrait of lowliness and gravitas, servitude and celebrity, pathos and iconoclasm, that the concept of Fred the Frog so astutely embodies.
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