Executed in 1988, Untitled is a self-portrait by Martin Kippenberger. But, as is so often the case in Kippenberger's deliberately problematic, often iconoclastic oeuvre, this is a self-portrait with a difference. The artist has shown himself as a bloated anti-hero. This, then, is far from the celebratory or at least self-promoting manoeuvres with which the genre is so often linked. Instead, in humble pen, Kippenberger has shown himself leaning, albeit in a dandyish, debonair manner, against filing cabinets while wearing oversized underwear. Self-portraiture, whether overt or oblique, was one of the most important weapons in his artistic arsenal, and recurred again and again in myriad novel forms, be it in the Lieber Maler, male mir series in which he commissioned a poster-painter to create large-scale paintings several of which were based on photographs of Kippenberger himself, in his mass of printed materials, in his sculpture Martin, ab in die Ecke und schäm Dich made in 1989 or in his later incarnation as the Eggman.
Kippenberger spent much of 1988 in Spain, and this may have played its part in his choice of clothing in this image and its related pictures. For the underwear are a reference to a well-known photograph of Pablo Picasso, shown as a virile old man wearing a similar garment with his dog on the steps of his home. Kippenberger, in adopting similar clothing, is deliberately puncturing the machismo of the Spanish painter and thereby undermining the entire cult of the artist. He is knocking both himself and Picasso from their respective pedestals. Even the choices of medium appear in part to refer to Picasso's legacy: in using the perversely unartistic-seeming ballpoint pen, Kippenberger is referring to Picasso's often unorthodox choice of equipment. But he is also chipping away at the concepts of hierarchy and high art that he felt permeated so much of the art world, and against which his works were a constant barrage.
In the centre of this picture is a stove-like contraption that in fact relates to an earlier series of Kippenberger's works, the Peter sculptures. This adds an extra twist to Untitled, as the Peter series was one in which Kippenberger expressly threw into question notions of authorship and ownership, working with assistants to create the works. This creates an intriguing interplay between the self-portrait image and this sculpture, which is his yet not his... It is through these somersaults that Kippenberger disrupted the entire question of artistic creation and indeed of identity, legacies with which artists continue to grapple today.