Kellner Des... is one of the only examples of a painting by Martin Kippenberger featuring one of his most celebrated recurring motifs: the Laterne an Betrunkene, or 'Streetlamp for Drunks'. Although he made many celebrated sculptures, photographs, posters and drawings on the subject, very few paintings of the streetlamps exist, particularly on this almost lifesize scale. This work would therefore appear to represent one of his most significant paintings. Kellner Des... is based on a 1988 photograph of one of the Laterne an Betrunkene sculptures installed outside the Restaurant Colosseo in Frankfurt. This work was painted after Kippenberger's appointment as a guest professor at the Städeschule in Frankfurt in 1990. There, the restaurant Colosseo acted as a form of substitute to the artist for Berlin's Paris Bar. Here, he enjoyed free food and drink in return for this painting in a deal similar to that made with Michel Würthle in Berlin. Kippenberger therefore held court in front of this painting, entertaining friends such as Benedikt Taschen as if he were at home.
Alongside the self portraits, the streetlamps were arguably his most prominent sign and alter ego throughout his career and between 1987 and 1992, Kippenberger developed an obsession which culminated with his exhibition of a major lantern sculpture at Documenta IX in 1992 and several other exhibitions devoted to the subject. When he had his first drunken streetlamp built in 1987, there was no way of foreseeing how versatile this motif would prove to be. Derived from a stereotype cartoon image of the bent streetlamp without the figure of the drunkard leaning on it, the image became a metaphor for the terror of physical dependency and existential need - a leitmotif for Kippenberger's life. Taking such a real form with its direct relationship to human scale, its objectival innocence somehow compounded its threat and turned the sculpture and its metaphor into a complex joke.
The grand, almost lifesize depiction continues the notion of the re-created readymade, an archetypal local street which the viewer can virtually walk into. Depicted with traditional perspective, the scene is completely empty of human life, save for the car in the street and the standard bar chairs and table which sit on the pavement. Into this everyday local scene, Kippenberger has injected a cartoon streetlamp at its forefront which bows down to greet the viewer. This is a painting of a photograph of a sculpture and by subjecting the image to this voyage through various artistic media, he has created a lamp which is almost naturally cartoonesque and, by extension, exaggeratedly expressive against the deadpan background. With its red head glowing against the moonlit backdrop, one can almost sense the streetlamp lending itself to us to lean on, a gesture which is confirmed by the title. This giddy feeling of being almost physically subsumed by the pictorial plane is an important aspect of Kellner Des... and, likewise, of Paris Bar. Kippenberger has literally brought the outside inside and, in so doing, when confronting the work one cannot help but interact with it palpably. It is not just the artist's marriage of 'real', plastic objects with a flat, artificial surface that ensures this experience. It is also the fact that the painting is executed almost to scale, so that it seems to invite the viewer to enter and more closely explore both Kippenberger's pictorial space and his clever take on the trompe l'oeil tradition.
Kellner Des... introduces an intriguing stylistic and subjectival analysis of the entire nature of representation: the lights that extrude from the canvas create a fantastically Kippenbergerian play on the different levels of reality and pictorial representation. Their presence echoes that of the lamp represented within the picture, while gleefully undermining the deliberately lapsed photorealism of the painting itself, creating a jarring tension between the represented world and that of the viewer. The 'bad taste' objects light up the
painting in a way that the painted image never could and provide a warmth and comfort to an otherwise cold and deserted scene. Arguably, a wry metaphor for a self portrait, this painting (ab)uses the virtuous, painterly language of Expressionism using the magnificent fluidity and eloquence of its depiction and its imposing dedication to style and image to heighten the witty deconstruction of modern-day innocence, honesty and trust.