'With the egg motif Kippenberger was especially able to go through the to and fro between arbitrariness and meaning, cuteness and complexity, crassness and fragility - the egg as the epitome of 'form with content'. If the egg shape in itself is already almost a parody of ideals like circle and sphere, the implications for the content here are more than world-sweeping: the egg as the bearer of Christian refreshment and reproduction symbolism, as a memorial to Marcel Broodthaers and the pictures of petit-bourgeois comfort penetrating life. The egg also plays a role with Kippenberger in its gastronomic meaning, as the basis for complex dishes as well as children's meals (fried eggs)' (M. Hermes, 'Egg Pictures', Nach Kippenberger, Eindhoven 2003, p. 205).
Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit (The Spread of Mediocrity) represents one of the finest works from Kippenberger's celebrated and iconic Eierbilder (Egg paintings) series of the mid 1990s. Across a vast canvas, Kippenberger has depicted an egg as a giant globe with its continents and countries spreading across the egg like an infestation. Executed just after the fall of the Berlin wall, the apparently mundane representation which cleverly tightropes between figuration and abstraction in Kippenberger's trademark 'bad painting' style, belies a message of deep gravitas about the state of our world delivered with a tongue firmly in cheek. Both in its depiction and title, Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit is a prescient artwork which is directly confronting the eradication of the Iron Curtain and its effect on the globalizing world. In this particular canvas Kippenberger uses the egg to signify the essence of life on planet earth, the fragility of the natural order and the consequences of what might happen if it is broken.
The accumulation of thick, energetic brushstrokes on the surface of the canvas blend effortlessly into one another with the thick impasto mimicking the topography of the geological features that can be found across the surface of the globe. Surrounded by an ethereal void, Kippenberger reinforces the hierarchy of the composition by concentrating the energy of the paintwork in the centre of the canvas. The monumental size of the canvas adds another important dimension to the work with its enormous proportions imparting a sense of awe as the viewer attempts to absorb the immense detail and scale of what appears before them.
The egg was a constant in Kippenberger's dense oeuvre from its first appearance in Eiermann aus Amsterdam, painted in 1981. As a motif, it appealed to him as a way of exploring many of the issues that interested him. As an inherently simple, yet also incredibly complex object, Kippenberger used the image of the egg to explore other aspects of his work; the relationships between meaning and arbitrariness, simplicity and complexity and strength and fragility. It also offered him a wide range of aesthetic possibilities too, giving him the chance to indulge his insatiable appetite for exploring the nature of form, from his 1985 cubist themed painting Kulturbäuerin bei der Reparatur ihres Traktors (Cultural Revolutionary Peasant Woman Repairing Her Tractor) to his egg shaped wooden sculptures like Ohne Titel (Skelett-Ei) from 1996.
The culmination of Kippenberger's life-long fascination with the egg as the epitome of a form with content is his Eierbilder (egg paintings) series painted between 1994 and 1996. As an early example of the series, Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit takes its place alongside other paintings in which the egg is variously depicted as a puppet, a toy and a frog. These works were Kippenberger's last major series before his premature death in 1997 and in a prophetic way they act as a triumphant crystallization of many of the ideas that the artist spent his career developing. Each one seems to include a direct reference to Kippenberger's life; from his worries about mortality in Männer mit Eiern, where the people have become egg shaped because they have lost their youthful contours, to the political concerns of Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit, each can be read in some way as a poignant self-portrait of the artist.
With his attraction to the symbolism of the egg, Kippenberger was building on a long tradition in art history of using the object as a metaphor for the fundamentals of human life. A sign of birth, and in Christian iconography, an image of the Resurrection, this round, holistic and organic form, also represents unity, harmony and a sense of fundamental order and the natural cycle of life. As far back as the 15th century artists like the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch were using the egg as symbol for moral and religious renewal. Works such as his fantastical masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights contains numerous examples of discarded eggshells and people seeking sanctuary in egg-shaped objects as part of his moral warning about the excesses of humanity. Bringing this tradition into the 20th century artists like Lucio Fontana used the symbolism of the egg to examine the fundamental nature of the universe. In his large scale Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio, Fontana uses an egg shaped canvas to represent the unknowable, unfathomable unity of the cosmos; the object which creates life while symbolizing the end of God. Kippenberger draws on these traditions and with Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit brings an important contemporary voice to a dialogue that dates back centuries.
Like Andy Warhol, Kippenberger had an extraordinary ability to capture the zeitgeist of the time and, painted just five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this painting offers a commentary on a rapidly changing world following the collapse of Communism. It expertly captures the feelings of uncertainty that resulted from the redrawing of the political map. The eradication of borders, and in some cases entire countries, left a profound effect on those who lived through the process. Taking his cue from the traditional maps, with their spectrum of colours indicating the different countries, in Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit Kippenberger produces his own version of the global map with bold and expressive brushstrokes of colour merging into each other just as countries merged and dissolved almost overnight.
Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit has parallels to Alighiero Boetti's Mappe which he produced in various versions until his death in 1994. Like Kippenberger, Boetti was concerned with the arbitrary nature of national borders. The concept of the Mappe evolved out of an earlier work that was based on the wars in the Middle East where Boetti had noticed how national borders changed with each piece of land that was seized. Noticing that the political borders in this region especially exist in a constant state of flux, Boetti also used the connotations of the world map to express his deeply inspired belief in the ultimate interconnection between races that have been uprooted and moved due to changes in the prevailing order and disorder.
Taking Boetti's ideas a step further Kippenberger wanted to examine the cultural and economic shifts that accompanied these changes. The painting's title, translated as The Spread of Mediocrity, alludes to this and the importance of this theme is demonstrated by the fact that Kippenberger includes it as part of the composition. As an artist he believed in the power of art to raise the human soul to a higher consciousness but the increasing level of globalization, and spread of mediocrity, meant that, culturally at least, the world was becoming a smaller place. Media, food and fashion had all became global industries with local products and customs being wiped out by the increasing dominance of multi-national corporations. With its depiction of a world without recognisable borders, Die Verbreitung der Mittelmässigkeit is a punishing satire on the rise of the global market and the inherent problems that it brings.