“The capacity to camouflage, to make light of, to exaggerate, all of these are impulses directed toward keeping humanity alive, along with oneself and confrontation. What works with language works just as well with images. To conceal, to whitewash, to direct onto false trails.” (M. KIPPENBERGER, quoted in M. Hermes, Martin Kippenberger, Cologne 2005, p. 9)
With its exquisite painterly surface swathed in expressive strains of luminous pigment, Martin Kippenberger’s Ohne Titel (Krieg Böse) (1991) is an eloquent work from his subversive Krieg Böse series. Against a white expanse of raw canvas, a background of thick vivid brushstrokes, described in a medley of green and blue tones, creates a cacophony of colour. The gun of a tank traverses the composition, providing support for a canary bird partially obscured by drips of lime green paint. Working amidst the German protest culture of the 1980s that centred upon debates surrounding the cultural heritage of a divided post-war Germany, Kippenberger confronts the political taboos of his time, iconoclastically undermining cultural and artistic tropes. The canary forms the conceptual backbone of the Krieg Böse series, offering a mocking dig at his German forebears. Specifically, it parodies George Baselitz’s monumental inverted eagles — a national symbol laden with historical significance. With its ruffled feathers rendered in a limited range of bright elementary colours, the canary comically controverts the solemnity of Baselitz’s heroic birds. Indeed, in tandem with the series, Kippenberger published two books, each containing 186 scribbled drawings of canaries, playing off the eagles depicted in Baselitz’s book Adler published in 1975. The title of the series – Krieg Böse – translates to ‘war wicked’. By omitting the word ‘is’ from the title, Kippenberger condenses the phrase ‘war is wicked’, thereby ridiculing the regressive tendency of warmongers – and indeed hard-line pacifists – to reduce complexities of war to a dialogue between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Laced with the artist’s trademark wit and irony, the work opposes the brutality of war through a seemingly puerile oversimplification of politics, reconceptualising Germany’s engagement with its complicated heritage.