Two exhibitions on the work of the late Jörg Immendorff, both organized by Michael Werner in London, cover the exact opposite ends of the artist’s life. “Lidl Works and Performances from the ’60s” focuses on Immendorff’s early years when he was a student of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. “Late Paintings after Hogarth” refers to the final years of his life, when he reprised a body of work based on Hogarth’s cycle The Rake’s Progress, initiated in the 1980s, and intertwined it with elements from his personal life.
In “Lidl Works and Performances” this is mostly expressed through the enthusiasm and energy artists normally experience during their student days. No stones are left unturned, with Immendorff displaying an extraordinary versatility that brings him to try out collage, sculpture, performance and painting, and to touch upon all sorts of subjects and genres, from national flags to still life and portraiture. Probably as a consequence of Beuys’s influence, but also as a response to the politically charged climate of the day, many works are tinged with activist tendencies; some criticize the ongoing conflict in Vietnam or venture the utopian proposal of founding an independent academy within the Kunstakademie.
By contrast, the paintings after Hogarth are significantly more somber. Made when Immendorff was busy battling a neurological disease that would ultimately prove to be terminal, they are evidence of his determination to test any conceivable technique that would enable him to work, and offer a serene reflection on the idea of mortality and the struggles that define experience.
It is a well-documented fact that the last years of Immendorff’s life were dominated by unfortunate extracurricular activities that had the side effect of casting a shadow on his notable achievements. “Lidl Works and Performances” and “Late Paintings” have the merit of restoring the dignity of his work as well as celebrating a talent sadly and prematurely dismissed.