News
Jörg Immendorff, 61, Painter With Provocative Themes, Dies
The New York Times
Roberta Smith
31 May 2007

Jörg Immendorff, a German painter best known for crowded scenes depicting an acidic, often autobiographical comedy of art, politics and history, died on Monday at his home in Düsseldorf. He was 61. 

He died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to Michael Werner, Mr. Immendorff’s dealer since 1969. His disease was diagnosed in 1998. 

Mr. Immendorff was one of the most versatile and provocative artists in postwar Germany, where they were not exactly in short supply. Like the artists Sigmar Polke, Markus Lüpertz, A. R. Penck and Anselm Kiefer, he was born during World War II and grew up shadowed by his country’s Nazi past, long postwar division and, for West Germany, booming economic recovery. He engaged this haunting German condition head-on. 

He was best known for his populous, elaborately theatrical “Cafe Deutschland” paintings. Begun in the late 1970s, these were part political cartoon, part history painting, part memoir. They lampooned the paradoxes of West German society by depicting disparate casts of characters in skewed cabaret settings. Their rubbery forms and figures might include the German eagle, Stalin or Hitler, as well as friends and other artists. These were the first works that Mr. Immendorff exhibited in New York in the early 1980s at the Sonnabend Gallery, then in SoHo. 

His generation became known as the Neo-Expressionists, but Mr. Immendorff’s work ranged from Fluxus performance to didactic Conceptual paintings to a deliberately infantile series of objects, paintings and performances that he named “Lidl,” after the noise made by a baby’s rattle. In one work he marched to and fro in front of the West German Parliament in Bonn with a wood block labeled “Lidl” tethered to his ankle and painted in the colors of the German flag. He was arrested for defaming the flag. 

Mr. Immendorff was born in Bleckede, in Lower Saxony. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother struggled for the means to send him to a strict boarding school. He disliked it and used his textbooks as drawing notebooks. 

In 1961 he had his first exhibition at the New Orleans Jazz Club in Bonn. Two years later, when the writer Stefan Andres bought three of his works, Mr. Immendorff left boarding school and entered the Düsseldorf Art Academy. There he studied for three terms with the theater designer Teo Otto, who had worked with Bertolt Brecht. 

After Otto threw him out of his class for refusing to let one of his paintings serve as stage-set decoration, Mr. Immendorff was accepted as a student by the charismatic sculptor Joseph Beuys. While at odds with Beuys’s mysticism, Mr. Immendorff was deeply affected by his belief that art could change society. Beuys’s rail-thin figure and distinctive profile and hat figured repeatedly in Mr. Immendorff’s work. But his time with Otto came in handy when he designed sets for the operas “Elektra” and “The Rake’s Progress.” The latter also inspired a series of paintings in which he cast himself as the rake. 

An easygoing man who became a friend of Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor from 1998 to 2005, Mr. Immendorff had earlier owned a bar in the red-light district of Düsseldorf. In 2004 he received a suspended 11-month sentence and a fine after his arrest for possession of cocaine in a Düsseldorf hotel during an orgy with nine prostitutes. 

He taught widely and in 1996 received the Mexican Marco Prize, worth $250,000. His retrospective at the National Museum in Warsaw in 1998 was the first accorded a German artist by a Polish museum since the end of World War II. 

After his diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, Mr. Immendorff worked to raise consciousness about that illness and funds for research. 

He is survived by his wife, Oda, whom he married in 2000, and their daughter, Ida.