Markus Lüpertz: Powerful Expression
The Wall Street Journal
Tobias Grey
24 April 2015

As a personality, Markus Lüpertz stands out for his flamboyant taste in suits, walking sticks and antique motorcars. As an artist, it’s his unrelenting work ethic and prodigious output of paintings and sculptures that strikes you. Among a comradely generation of German artists, including A.R. Penck, Georg Baselitz and the late Jörg Immendorff, all born just before or during World War II, 73-year-old Mr. Lüpertz has been the least inclined to repeat himself.

His ogreish appetite for exploring art’s every facet is on display in a vast variety of styles and configurations at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. which is holding the first French museum retrospective of Mr. Lüpertz’s career. Curator Julia Garimorth gives this new exhibition, which comprises roughly 140 works, a Benjamin Button-esque twist by beginning at the tail-end of Mr. Lüpertz’s career and working backward.

It’s a high compliment—and a deserved one—as it in no way shows Mr. Lüpertz in a bad light. A series of painted bronze sculptures from 2013 depicting vainglorious male figures from Greek mythology are both wondrous and pathetic. It’s tempting to view one entitled “Odysseus,” showing a male torso and painted head planted in a tiny rowing boat, as a metaphor for Mr. Lüpertz’s continual search for new artistic challenges.

Metaphor and motif strike at the heart of his considered approach, as does his blurring of formal boundaries between abstract and figurative art. Ms. Garimorth champions Mr. Lüpertz as one of the first German artists to break the postwar taboo about the Nazi period.

On display is a series of monumental distemper paintings (during the 1970s he couldn’t afford oils) in which Mr. Lüpertz depicts motifs from German history such as helmets, uniforms and military insignia. These he associates with harmless objects such as sea snails, painters’ palettes and telegraph wires to express the absurdity of venerating objects of any kind.

Throughout the retrospective, which runs until July 19, the same motifs are repeated in different contexts until their nature becomes devoid of symbolism and abstract in appearance. On the rare occasion Mr. Lüpertz employs purely figurative art, such as a Goya-esque painting of an execution by firing squad, it’s so there can be no ambiguity about the horror he feels.