In 1986, Martin Kippenberger traveled to Brazil on what he called the Magical Misery Tour. In Salvador, Bahia, he bought an abandoned a disused gas station and renamed it Gas Station Martin Bormann, after the infamous Nazi. With typical irreverent decadence, the station dispensed not gas, but alcohol. His gas station project was then exhibited in Germany in 1986 along with a colossal sculpture made of cardboard boxes in a reference to the statue of Christo Redentor above Rio which he called Rückenschwimmer or Backstroker. The Backstroker character re-surfaces here in the Entwurffür die Verbesserung des Rückenschwimmens in Rio I and II or Design for the improvement of backstroke in Rio I & II, from the same year.
These two panels show Kippenberger at his most provocative, ironically challenging the history of painting. Already in 1977, Martin Kippenberger painted in a deliberately stylized and rather clumsy way a green duck swimming, a motif that could just as easily have been found on a cheap towel in a store, but Kippenberger used it to make art, playing with the notion of high art through references to the ready-made and to Pop art. It is a prime example of Kippenberger's anti-art artwork. Here the same theme is developed these panels are a combination of ready-mades. On each panel, a Backstroker is lying on a colorful sand-and-towels background. The vibrant colors of the towels contrast with the purity of the white sand of Rio. On the right-hand panel, the ready-mades made with beach towels stitched together and the monochrome sand painting to the right are divided by a luscious streak of blue paint suggesting the sea. The Styrofoam on the towel could have been flung there by a Dadaist whimsically casting objects onto a random surface. On the left-hand panel, the swimmer can be read as a Metro station, with rails and a Styrofoam structure, a possible precursor to his Metro-Net series, where he created metro stations in improbably locations all over the world.
Art history is casually referenced: from action painting and combine painting to the rough surfaces of the Spanish post-war painters. The result, rather than being a confused mêlée of influences, is a playful but questioning pun on the meaning of a painting and a direct challenge to the strict, virtuoso technique of Gerhard Richter. 'He unsettles the public with his belligerent strategies and his spontaneous--humorous to sarcastic--pictorial compositions. And he was never afraid to be embarrassing or insulting. Many still regard him today as a post-modern Bohemian' (from 'Nach Kippenberger' exh. cat. Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, November 2003-February 2004).
Kippenberger was an iconoclast. His art draws upon a wide range of artistic movements from the post-war period such as Pop, Action Painting or Minimalism, embezzling them for his own transgessive purposes. An artist of many media, from painting to sculpture to song writing, he used his person to make artistic statements, his enfant terrible persona breaking consensus as much as his artistic production per se. One of his cheekiest gestures was to buy a Gerhard Richter painting and use it as the top of a coffee table. Deconstructing his own ideas of art history and blending them with current underground trends or popular ideas, Kippenberger made his work into a diary of personal obsessions. His multi-faceted view of the world with its boundless visual and intellectual stimuli were awe-inspiring. Gaining recognition in the 1980s in Germany at a time when post-modernism and neo-expressionism dominated artistic thought, Kippenberger found an ideal platform to question everything about the role of the artist and the creative act of making art itself. Kippenberger felt the urge and freedom to make anything and everything, anytime. For him, the act of creation was about the depletion of one's energy, about exhausting oneself to the degree where art became ridiculous. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this work, a composite of all Kippenberger's humor, irony, irreverence and intelligence.