Georg Baselitz - Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Arbeiten auf Papier

verlängert bis zum 12. Januar 2019


Diashow from the exhibition



  • Baselitz 1984 2A Ohne Titel 6X84 75146 04

    Georg Baselitz
    Ohne Titel (Hände).
    Gouache 1984.
    65,5 x 47,7 cm.
    Obj.Id 75146

  • Baselitz 2002 Indianergrab 5H 80307 03

    Georg Baselitz
    Linolschnitt 2002.
    201 x 150 auf 228 x 170 cm.
    Obj.Id 80307


  • Baselitz 2002 5H La Nuit mit Marie gerahmt in der Ausstellung 2018 in Ri... 01

    Georg Baselitz
    La nuit de Marie.
    Linolschnitt 2002.
    202 x 150 auf 228 x 170 cm.
    Obj.Id 80311

  • Kirchner 1916 2A Dame vor Waldstueck 01

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Dame vor Waldstück.
    Aquarell über Bleistift 1916.
    53 x 36 cm.
    Obj.Id 65547

  • Kirchner 1918 5H D330 II-III Kopf Ludwig Schames 76977 orig 01

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Kopf Ludwig Schames.
    Holzschnitt 1918. Dube H 330.
    56,5 x 26,5 auf 57 x 44,5 cm.
    Obj.Id 80021

  • Kirchner 1937 5H D673 II Die Empfindungen 01

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
    Die Empfindungen.
    Holzschnitt 1937. Dube H 673.
    50 x 36,9 auf 60,5 x 43,5 cm.
    Obj.Id 67087


Works on Paper

Woodcuts and linocuts, etchings, lithographs, drawings, watercolours


Honoured by numerous exhibitions and publications, Georg Baselitz this year celebrated his 80th birthday. Despite his age, he has remained one of the “most contemporary” artists of our time, notwithstanding the fact that his work draws on the strongest interactions with history and art history, with such icons of art as Edvard Munch and Emil Nolde, and in particular with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The works of Kirchner and Baselitz had been able to “meet” five years ago in “Besuch bei Ernst Ludwig” at the Kirchner Museum in Davos, an exhibition initiated by Karin Schick and subsequently curated by Thorsten Sadowsky. In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Günther Gercken, Anselm Wagner and Dieter Koepplin dealt in their precisely written essays with the equally complicated and fruitful interdependencies both of the works of the two artists and of their personalities.

It was in 1938, the very year in which Kirchner took his own life in Davos – not least because politics was once again threatening his existence and hence his art too –, that Baselitz was born in Germany where both life and art were also under threat, and, moreover, in the eastern part of Germany, where little was to change after 1945. Between the oeuvres of the two artists compared in the forthcoming exhibition lie two generations, even three – almost a century – if we count just Kirchner’s earliest and Baselitz’s latest works.

As “Brücke” specialists – and as Kirchner specialists in particular – we also extend the scope of our research to include all subsequent expressionist or “violently emotional” painting right up to the present day. Consequently, in the winter of 2007/08, we mounted a comprehensive exhibition of the most significant exponent of the revival of expressionist painting after 1960, namely Georg Baselitz, and in this forthcoming exhibition, following a first such exhibition in 2009/10, we query Kirchner’s and Baselitz’s works on paper about the comparability of the incomparable, namely that of works of art that originate from completely different epochs and yet were created by artists who clearly used similar methods and strategies.

As a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in East Berlin in the 1950s, Georg Baselitz – then still Hans-Georg Kern – was already destined to play a part in the revival of figurative painting, for the GDR “emphatically rejected” all non-figurative painting as pure formalism, but the way he took was a completely different and sensational one. Hans-Georg Kern was sent down from university in 1957 on account of his “socio-political immaturity”. He then continued his studies at the equivalent art academy in West Berlin, but art at that time was going through its most intense phase of abstraction worldwide, such that he had little choice but to become a student of one of its exponents, Hann Trier, and even graduated as a master student.

It was then, however, that he took on the name Georg Baselitz after his birthplace and painted paintings that caused public annoyance and entailed years of trials, for they were direct and expressively unambiguous. They were something with which the public was no longer familiar and it was the also the time before 1968 when people were still very prudish, above all in matters of sex. Baselitz painted intimate sexual obsessions based on his experiences with his own body – from “Die grosse Nacht im Eimer” (“The Big Night Down the Drain”) to his “Helden-Bilder” (“Hero Paintings”) to "Die grossen Freunde" (“The Great Friends”), the latter being, as he himself declared in a manifesto, a “good picture”.

In 1969, something quite extraordinary happened in his painting: he now painted everything upside down, beginning with “Der Wald auf dem Kopf” (“The Forest on its Head”). Much has been asked and said about his reasons for this. One of them seems logically essential: the motif is clearly recognizable, but not all that quickly. While it still determines the composition, it recedes in favour of the overall effect of pure painting, as if it wants to say: “Please try not to understand me too quickly”.

The GDR professors’ verdict of “socio-political immaturity” was certainly not far off the mark, for Baselitz is concerned, even in his most recent “Russian paintings”, in his portrait of Joseph Stalin, for example, who painfully dominated his youth, with painting a good painting more than anything else. Indeed, what Baselitz does is simply magnificent painting. Naturally, his paintings are always aimed subversively at the powers that be – in the tradition known to us since the discord between Ovid and Augustus – and, by the same token, against the powers wielded by (state) academies of art.

Even though he was older than Baselitz by a good two generations, Kirchner would have had no truck with state academies either. It was the “Brücke” studios that were his academy. This was where he and his fellow artists worked, practiced and, above all, drew incessantly. Life and art, however, could not have been more anti-bourgeois, more provocative, and yet Imperial Germany was more tolerant than its reputation would have us believe, for neither did the "Brücke" artists have any difficulties because of their laissez-faire lifestyle and their celebration of nudity and free sexuality both in their studios and outdoors, nor were their postcards, often painted with magnificent nudes, censored by the Imperial Post Office. However, during the First World War, Kirchner suffered a mental breakdown under the might exercised by the German state over his life, but it was not until the end of his life, in 1936, that his art actually came under attack, the entirety of his works in German museums being confiscated by the Nazis. This attack became an existential stranglehold in 1938 when the Nazis annexed Austria, the border of which was only a few kilometres away from his house in Davos.

Thus the respective experiences of the two artists not only belonged to completely different epochs but also ran in opposite directions, so to speak. Moreover, Kirchner's life was cut off at the age of 58, which meant that he no longer had the opportunity to recapitulate, as Baselitz has done in recent  years with his “Remix” series, a resumption and reinterpretation of his (not yet upside-down) motifs from the mid-1960s. 

The exhibition is showing works on paper by both artists. While “paper is patient”, as the old German saying goes, this is certainly not the case for the visual artist. On the contrary, paper poses an enormous challenge.  Unlike oil painting, which can be readily altered or completely overpainted, paper hardly allows for corrections, especially for watercolours and printmaking.  Indeed, once a stroke has been made on paper, or etched into the engraving plate or cut into a linoleum or wood block, it can no longer be corrected. Consequently, for the painter-engraver, and Baselitz and Kirchner are both such engravers, the work on paper, and especially the print, is not a preliminary or intermediate stage of a composition but the end result. This can be clearly observed in the works of both artists.

Baselitz's woodcuts can be of very large format, and in this exhibition they are up to 2 metres high. Kirchner's largest woodcut, at 85 cm, hardly matches the size of Baselitz's smallest formats. This difference in size is even greater when it comes to comparing their etchings, which, in this exhibition, mostly measure no more 25 cm in Kirchner's case, while Baselitz's etchings measure up to 100 cm in height. This is a fact one should always bear in mind when looking at printed illustrations of their works, as actual dimensions are not always evident.

Similarities and congruences are immediately apparent both in their techniques and in their styles. Indeed, the two artists share the same expressionist exaggeration of form, colour and gesture. The fissures hacked into broad black surfaces of wood testify to the same basic artistic approach, as do the leaves filled in with an ink brush in an absolute horror vacui or the violent linearity of their trees. 

But what for Kirchner was a real and directly experienced present, or even future, is for Baselitz the past. All that has happened in the meantime weighs much too heavily. And precisely because they were created in the same expressionist style, these two oeuvres reveal their respective sensitivities all the more forcefully. Thus it is that, in comparison, the incomparable becomes apparent.

Wolfgang Henze

Text accompanying Exhibition No. 120 at Galerie Henze & Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern

Galerie Henze & Ketterer
Kirchstrasse 26, CH 3114 Wichtrach
Tel. +41 (0)31 781 06 01
modernart (at) henze-ketterer.com
Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold
Wettsteinstrasse 4, CH 4125 Riehen
Tel. +41 (0)61 641 77 77
ghkt (at) artgalleries.ch