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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann


metal, glass and light bulb
110 3⁄8 x 14 x 14 in. (280.4 x 35.6 x 35.6 cm.)
Executed in 1989.
Galleri Nordanstad-Skarstedt, Stockholm
Anon. sale; Stockholms Auktionsverk, 5 June 1996, lot 1672
Ralph Wernicke, Stuttgart
Birgit Küng + Andres Blöchlinger, Zurich
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich, 2007
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Sale room notice
For additional provenance information on this lot, please visit

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Lot Essay

Executed in 1989, Laterne represents one of the most iconic sculptural forms in Martin Kippenberger’s practice: the streetlamp. The present example towers nine feet high and is painted red, its bulb casting a warm yellow glow. Rather than perching at the top, the lantern element sits halfway up the lamppost, which continues above it for several feet; the post ends in a slight bend, lending the object a curiously anthropomorphic poignance. First arrived at with the undulating Streetlamp for Drunks, which he made in Spain in 1988—the same year he created his famous “Picasso” self-portraits—Kippenberger’s modified streetlamps would go on to feature in countless drawings, paintings and sculptures. Swaying, bent double, walking on two legs or weaving in and out of walls, they transform an everyday piece of street furniture into a surreal, animated presence. Alcohol-fueled antics, provoking scandal and hilarity in equal measure, were a key part of Kippenberger’s artistic persona. As if distorted through the eyes of a cartoon drunk, or flexing sympathetically for him to lean on as he weaves his way home, Kippenberger’s Laternen embody his extraordinary capacity to combine art and life, and to bend elements of the world around him to his vision.

The streetlamps trace a playful line through the final decade of Kippenberger’s practice, which can be understood as one massive social sculpture. They popped up all over the world like alter-egos for the itinerant artist: the Streetlamp for Drunks was first installed outside a bar in Seville, then shown as part of Kippenberger’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1988, and another version appeared outside Kippenberger’s beloved Paris Bar in Berlin, which was owned by his friend Michael Würthle. The lamps’ diverse, contorting forms reflected Kippenberger’s ability to rearrange and reimagine his own position as an artist, forever creating work for new locations and contexts: a proverbial “lightbulb moment” for every occasion. Displaying his irreverent, magpie approach to art history, they also made nods to sculptural tradition, from the transformed objets trouvés of Duchamp to Alberto Giacometti’s tall, slender figures, which find a particular echo in the two-legged lamps. They are inflected with hints of Surrealism and Existentialism alike, touching on themes that go far deeper than their slapstick appearance.

One of Kippenberger’s most famous uses of the lamp came at documenta IX, Kassel, in 1992. Kippenberger and his students orchestrated a surprise interview with its curator, Jan Hoet, demanding to know why he wasn’t invited to exhibit; in revenge, Hoet included Kippenberger on the list of participants without in fact asking him to show anything. Kippenberger responded by planting a gold streetlamp, bowed over in comedic contrition—and crying a large Plexiglass teardrop—outside Kassel’s Fridericianum. He photographed it there and reproduced the image as a poster. The base of the lamp was pointedly sat atop Walter de Maria’s Vertical Earth Kilometer: a one-kilometer-long brass rod, five centimeters in diameter, drilled into the ground with only its top end visible. Temporarily transforming the older artist’s work, which had been installed in the Friedrichplatz park since 1977, it appeared as if Kippenberger had pulled the rod up out of the earth and twisted it to his will. With its slim vertical line bent and disrupted by the prosaic glass lantern, the present Laterne might similarly be seen to toy with the Minimalist sculpture of artists like Dan Flavin, who sought a distilled purity and clarity of form in his use of fluorescent lights. Kippenberger’s outlook, of course, was far more anarchic. Sardonic, witty and laced with melancholy, the streetlamps encapsulate his theatrical entanglement of art with the architecture, interactions and events of his existence. It was a lifestyle that eventually caught up with him, and Kippenberger died, aged just forty-four, in 1997. His Laternen continue to shine wherever they are found.

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