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Georg Baselitz at Michael Werner
Art in America
Edward Leffingwell
July 2002

One of two rough-hewn sculptures raised on simple pedestals, Georg Baselitz's towering Asian Thing (1995) seemed emblematic of the power and vulnerability of the human form at its most Gothic, a golem in the making. Its surfaces are covered with a checkered, machine-loomed flannel, a subtle, polychromatic patchwork of nocturnal blue, heather and black that enlivens the sculpture's truncated planes and the quiet space it occupies. Softened by the fabric, the sculpture is figured with painted scrawls of bright orange oil that circle its massive breasts, groin and facial features. Baselitz traced an arabesque across the lower back, like a signature of his engagement in the process of its making. On another pedestal, the blocky, bustlike head of Checkered Thing (1994), a little more than 40 inches tall, was covered with a plaid of blue, red and black, placed to emphasize the planes of cheekbones, nose, boxlike ears and lavish mouth. Both works reflect the artist's attraction to medieval and African woodcarving. 

Ringing the gallery walls, 14 drawings are inscribed with the day, month and year (1998) of their making. Awash in subdued, lyrical hues, they suggest motifs of Eastern European folklore, with costumed figures floating in embryonic ovals attended by decoratively placed reductive floral motifs. These works are of a piece with the drawings and paintings that have reflected the artist's interest in Slavic decoration since 1997. In one of the untitled drawings, a characteristically inverted robed figure, skirts ornamented with ink arabesques, topped with a hat, recalls the painted fables of Chagall. Floating in its own car-touche of a pale, golden wash, the figure is accompanied by another reminiscent of a putto, and bold, rose-shaped elements, colored green. 

Baselitz seems to lay down a wash of color, locate figurative elements within it and confidently limn them in india ink. Elsewhere, figures or parts of figures--an arm, a head, a section of the torso with an arm--emerge from or are drawn into these pale washes. In several drawings, the roseate forms reappear, sometimes in the corners, sometimes elsewhere, and in one or two, the emblematic Baselitz eagle, right side up and upside down. Taken together, these absorbing drawings recall the population of a Tarot deck, with its hanging man, upside down as these figures so often are, a sign of release, of vulnerability, of overturning priorities and the old order.