A giant of German painting on a par with the much-acclaimed Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz has been surprisingly little-shown in the UK: his last solo presentation in London was in 1979. This dense exhibition, curated by fellow painter Peter Doig, is thus something of a Lüpertz crash course. It surveys the artist’s half-century-long career with just about as many paintings as the walls can carry. It’s as if Doig was so anxious to do justice to Lüpertz’s multifaceted oeuvre that he couldn’t bring himself to leave anything out.
But he brilliantly succeeds in showcasing the ambition of Lüpertz’s project. While the German painter’s production is overwhelmingly figurative, he sees himself an abstract painter, tackling core issues related to the nature of the medium. The tents, logs, and helmets repeated ad nauseam in his series—a strategy he describes as “dithyrambic painting” and of which representative examples are shown here – stand as experiments with the application of the brush on the canvas and the balancing of monumental compositions. Lüpertz was spurred on by a desire to forge a new path for German art in the post–World War Two era, like many of his contemporaries tackling the country’s Nazi past. The green helmet in Helmet I (1970) functions both as a metonymy for Germany’s cruel 20th-century history, and a symbol of all conflicts, softened, almost pacified, by the dark swathe of forest green.
Based on an outfit found in a mail order catalog, Man in Suit – dithyrambic I (1976) sheds light on Lüpertz’s Pop tendencies, linking him to the likes of Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol. The artist has also been a “painter of modern life,” plugged to the mundane and reflecting on the pervasive lure of capitalism. Yet it is the most recent work that best demonstrates Lüpertz’s sense of his own place in art history. The behemoth figure of Odysseus/Achilles (2013) stands in a room hung with a pictorial declension on the classical male nude. His legs are powerful to the point of grotesque, his torso defined but shockingly out of proportion. The Western canon is chewed up and spat out, transformed.
Until March 15, 2014