Reflective of his statement that every artist is a human being, Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled creates the vision of a modern-day artist as a vulnerable but endlessly compelling figure.
Untitled forms part of Martin Kippenberger’s most iconic series of large-scale, mock-heroic self-portraits painted in the summer of 1988, while he and Albert Oehlen lived in a small studio in Carmona in southern Spain. While utterly distinct, the self-portraits, which are today commonly referred to as the ‘Picasso paintings’ or the ‘underwear paintings,’ are nevertheless united by a distinct iconography, showing the artist wearing nothing but underwear, frequently standing beside one of his acclaimed Peter sculptures while holding onto the string of a balloon. In Untitled, the then-35-year-old artist consciously presented himself as the imposing anti-hero, exposing human and artistic imperfection as well as a fear of failure, despite his real-world success at the time.
Presenting himself in nothing but underwear, however, not only served as a way to embarrassingly reveal his exuberant lifestyle and human imperfection. It was a lampooning reference to Picasso, particularly David Douglas Duncan’s photographs of the artist outside his Villa, La Californie, in 1957. Despite the informal attire, Picasso portrays an image of strength and confidence as opposed to Kippenberger’s awkward, almost pitiful demeanor. The traditionally self-confident artist is replaced by a doubting, vulnerable figure in search of recognition, and his artistic as well as personal identity at large. Driven by constantly challenging and reinventing himself no matter the cost, the cult of the artist was Kippenberger’s favorite theme until his premature death in 1997.
© Jeff Koons
Image credit: Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997), Untitled. © Estate of Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne