Exhibition room 6. Georg Baselitz

In the 1960s Georg Baselitz emerged as a pioneer of German Neo-Expressionist painting. His work evokes disquieting subjects rendered feverishly as a means of confronting the realities of the modern age and explores what it is to be German and a German artist in a postwar world. In the late 1970s his iconic “upside-down” paintings, in which bodies, landscapes, and buildings are inverted within the picture plane, ignoring the realities of the physical world, make obvious the artifice of painting. Drawing upon a dynamic and myriad pool of influences, including art of the Mannerist period, African sculptures, and Soviet era illustration art, Baselitz developed a distinct painting language.

Source: Gagosian Gallery www.gagosian.com/artists/georg-baselitz

Picasso’s late work focused Baselitz on the pictorial struggle with mortality, which he himself had addressed since the early 1960s in terms of personal and societal realities.

Beginning with two still lifes Picasso painted on 1943, both depicting a skull and a pitcher resting on a tabletop, Baselitz created a single composition, Ash Pots, in which he reduced the objects to nearly abstract ciphers painted and carved into a black ground. The strength of the painting emerges from the churning metamorphosis that Baselitz evokes through his layering of broad brushstrokes and, especially, his use of a plane tool to scrape ragged, densely worked patterns of lines into the skins of the pigment and their wooden support.

Without knowing Baselitz’s sources, a viewer might never identify the origin of the shapes, which shift to resemble headless bodies, sometimes topped with a skull incised into the dark ground. The more one studies the painting, the more it comes to life as a macabre dance of death. In Picasso—especially the Picasso of the late work—Baselitz found an artist who shared his profound concern with mortality and inspired him to create some of his most compelling images.

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald