Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert (Down with Casablanca signed four times), Martin Kippenberger's smart, sardonic riff on Cubism, puts paid to the visual language of Modernism with its focus on form, sharp edges and the square. With his caustic wit, Kippenberger mocks these formal strategies and the faceted, collapsed planes of Cubist structure. Featuring his signature ovoid shape, Kippenberger creates a work that both confounds and mesmerizes the viewer. The title's reference to Casablanca is treated literally as with a single pigmented silicone line, Kippenberger traces the shape of a flying carpet, which in popular spectacle represents Moroccan/North African culture-a stereotype that Kippenberger skewers with exuberance. Not only does Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert play with general art-historical tropes, here Kippenberger also adds to the mix a wonderfully witty subversion of formal strategies deployed by the celebrated German--über artists of a previous generation, such as Anselm Kiefer, whose practice relied on symbolic representations of Germany's past framed in handwritten lines of poetry. Executed with humor, sophistication, and insight, Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert enacts an elaborate joke on several fronts, not least the art historical and the political.
During the years 1983 and 1984, Kippenberger executed several works with the titles Down with, for example Down with the Bourgeoisie or Down with Inflation. In this series, which he collectively titled Die I.N.P-Bilder (The Is-Not-Embarrassing Paintings), he probed his anarchic resistance to class hierarchies as well the residual, if generalized guilt carried by his generation for Germany's role in World War II, or "the hypocrisies and contradictions of his culture" as Anne Goldstein termed them (A. Goldstein, "The Problem of Perspective," Martin Kippenberger, The Problem of Perspective, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 68). Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert proclaims the spirit of these works and their collective treatment of cultural clichés and stereotypes. And so, the seemingly nonsensical title "Down with Casablanca" might call to mind Hitler's goal of using North Africa's harbor as the launching site for world domination. But in Kippenberger's ebullient absurdist trademark style, the title seems to function as a punch line for a joke that has somehow disappeared.
In Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert, with its upending of spatial perspective (a sine qua non in painting since the Renaissance and the entry point for Picasso's new vision of representation), Kippenberger takes on several masters of Modernism--not only Picasso's synthetic Cubism, but also the Cubism of Francis Picabia and Juan Gris, as well as the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and the reduced color geometries of Henri Matisse. The form--angles, rectangles, ovoids, and their geometric relationships--is the theme Kippenberger explores here. As in his signature Eierbilder (Egg paintings), a series of works that used the shape of the egg, the ovoid, as well as its literal depiction, Kippenberger sets up a dialogue between what can be recognized as form-the ovoid and the rectangle--and what can be teased out as content. Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert is a cocktail of spatial, formal, and coloristic effects that mystify, complicate, and parody the 'isms' of Modernist art. "Kippenberger's practice was," as the artist Mike Kelley commented, "a game of simultaneous transgression and respect" (A. Goldstein, "Conversation with Mike Kelley," December 18, 2005, unpub. trans., in "The Problem of Perspective," op. cit., p. 70, note 51). It was also a practice of "cannibalization," one in which Kippenberger along with all artists before him, "consume their forebears as they fight for their own survival" (Ibid., p. 277). Kippenberger, nonetheless, pays homage to these Modernist pioneers, while simultaneously undermining their heroic status.
In the present work, Kippenberger creates a fictive space in which surface and depth are compressed through an arbitrary shifting of planes. Four quadrants are in effect misaligned: edges are disordered, shapes are disjoined, orthogonal rectilinear forms that jut from the lower left and right corners are halted in mid-trajectory. Sharp rhomboids and soft spheres overlap or interpenetrate multiple planar fields. A progression of circular shapes hovers in the upper quadrants as if unmoored in a Surrealist mindscape. The chair, too, figures prominently, its back and legs deployed here for their rectilinear formal strength. Chairs were another motif Kippenberger favored. A now celebrated work, Ich kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (With the best will in the world, I cannot see a swastika) from 1984, executed the same year as Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert, features the willful complication of the equilateral cross on which the swastika is based, whose elements constitute the "chair" form. With its legs thickened into cubic quadrilaterals of skewed dimensionality, Kippenberger creates a maze of visual signs that cannot be sorted out. In Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert, the artist creates a more banal, open representation, which utilizes similar diagonally projecting rectilinear shapes, which complicate spatial sense, counterfeiting the manner in which Cubists rearranged spatial and formal relationships.
Here, Kippenberger also deploys geometric shapes as clichés of Modernism. Matisse, de Chirico, Picabia, Picasso, and Gris are the obvious models. In The Moroccans, 1915-16, Matisse has schematized detail into geometric formal patterning, making virtually unrecognizable plants, watermelons, and the sitting and reclining figures. Kippenberger echoes such obfuscation, while also suspending a lime green ball seemingly snatched from de Chirico's The Evil Genius of the King, 1914-15, and the spherical shapes in Picabia's Comic Wedlock, 1914. Picasso creates a central focal point with a white rounded form, such as the body of a guitar (Guitar, 1913) or the head of sculpture (Studio with Plaster Head, 1925), focusing and unifying the work amid the counterpoint he sets up with sharply angled, rectilinear geometries, such as in Juan Gris' Bottle of Rum and Newspaper, 1913-14. In like manner and with sly wit, Kippenberger mimes such sharp angularities and circular forms. Indeed, ovoids and rectangles are caught up in the short energetic brush strokes, Kippenberger's feint toward modeling depth and shadows in a mock suggestion of the artist's handwork. The straight lines created by puzzling together the smaller quadrants seem in casual discord with random silicone contours that seem to trace two triangles to no purpose. Red pigmented silicone handwriting--upper and lower case printing followed by script--and the black outline of the flying carpet foregrounds the artificiality of the enterprise, and its meaning as much as its synthetic materiality.
During roughly two decades, Kippenberger produced a variety of works in all media, challenging traditional definitions of artistic practice and identity. His subjects derived from a life exuberantly lived, his materials became anything he encountered, and his practice produced an array of objects, installations, photographs, performances and printed matter of every variety. His goal was nothing less than an interrogation of spectacle throughout the history of Western art. Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert confounds the viewer as it reasserts formal stereotypes and subverts with sardonic glee Cubist structure, Modernist tropes and the culture of reception. A supreme example of Kippenberger's extraordinary reach, Nieder mit Casablanca vierfach signiert plays with notions of parody, appropriation, and stylistic quotation while presenting language, forms, and structure that open a range of associative content. The associations are funny and surprising, destabilizing and seductive--the gift of an artist of extraordinary imagination and intellectual depth, one who "[took] art only as a whole and in its full range of variations, in order to 'replay' it assimilated in his own person" (M. Kippenberger, interviewed by M. Prinzhorn and B. Curiger, "Regarding: Martin Kippenberger," Parkett, Vol. 19, Zurich and New York, 1989).