Eleven monumental sculptures by Markus Lüpertz are on view throughout the city of Orléans as an extension of the exhibition, Markus Lüpertz: le faiseur de dieux at the Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans. Below please find an exerpt from a 2002 essay by art historian and curator Kosme de Barañano on the artist.
In 1981, Lüpertz starts his sculptures in a programmatic fashion, in that division of sculpture as carved or as modeled, per forza di levare, or per via di porre in Michelangelo’s words. Lüpertz thus amalgamates his own style, working from the modeled, in wax and plaster, but he cuts it and attacks it, just as he attacks his canvases with the brush. Lüpertz is not a painter of the wrist, instead he paints with his arm, discharging his powerful brushstrokes and pulling the brush violently as he configures his forms; he attacks the plaster in the same way, with the same aggressive and puncturing manner. In his own words, any normal sculptor would throw his hands up if he saw him work (Jeder normale Bildhauer würde Hände über dem Kopf zusammenschalagen, wenn er mich arbeiten sähe). It is clear in his sculptures, not only in the plasters, but also in the cast bronze works, that the material he started from was carved or broken out as stone is worked. His sculptures attract attention in the first place for being figurative, but at the same time, because of the presence of abstract forms, both with historical allusions. Many of his sculptures are painted, introducing color - a new meaning, which is both formal and structural, to the pieces. In the pieces one also finds references to the great masters of sculpture; in Apollo, 1989, there is an allusion to Michelangelo, in Ganymed to Picasso’s El hombre del Cordero (The Man of the Lamb, 1944). The allusion to Picasso is not only formal, but basically conceptual; the handling, for example of irony, requires a precise and prior context where its timbre and its smile is to be inserted, in the case of Lüpertz’s Ganymed, the accompanying animal is not an eagle, but rather a dead chicken that does not elevate the hero but rather makes him into a common countryman.
Lüpertz is a painter of painters, in the sense that his painting is self-representative, Malerei as Malerei. From his first works, in the period of the dithyrambs, it doesn’t matter whether there are military helmets or battle fields of asparagus; later come his series Stil Malerei o Fachismus with some street scenes reminiscent of Valtus. Motifs from Greek myths appear from the beginning of his sculpture (1981-1982), both in the series Mykensche Lächel, as in the large mythological sculptures that give way to the series Zwischenraumgesperter.
To make painting about the history of painting is one thing and to make painting about the inner-workings of the painting is another. The first option has given rise to tedious reflections by historians and critics on the geniuses’ capacity to decorate and other sublime concepts of criticism. The second can produce delirious histories that generally work on two levels: that of the critics enamored of the roman à clef (just think of all the interpretations of Guernica) and that of the lovers of comic literature that offers something more in its writing that the immediate guffaw. The Zwischenraumgespenster belong to this category where memory, revision, facility of analysis and irony are all mixed together.
With his talent for narrating (in the brush), his capacity to make the latest and the ancestral, the mature and the foreseen simultaneous, Lüpertz reaches the unspeakable end of the world of Painting. All of Lüpertz’s work is a wonderfully rich historical tale, projected through the lense of esperpento and made into elegy. Lüpertz prefers the rough tears of the brush in this tale like a fresco to the metaphor of height, the painting within the painting, the sculpture referring to sculpture. There is no mystery to be revealed in this plot, unless it is some landscapes to inhabit; unlike Proust, Lüpertz employs a narrative economy. It is a cool archipelago of fragments, unheard of tangencies of the world of feelings. Perhaps more than a tale in fragments, it is a poetic essay in 51 digressions, for its character as linguistic (pictorial) survey subjected to multiplication.
It is an essay which does not reach a determined conclusion or offer advice, but rather which maintains its lack of specification: but the grain has made the granary. These still lifes, the Vanitas, or anarchic portraits in their succession, these accumulations of images are a continuum of knowledge. Everything is good to be gone over again and the heterogeneous premises accumulate in order to explain a single object or fundamentally a relationship. There is no definition; as in Socrates’ irony, there is journey, distance covered. Feet in Alice in Wonderland are not symbols referring to emblems nor are they icons that portray what they say. They are signs, possible images, extrapolations of memory; they are knots that approximate quotations and phantoms to give way to the progression of a form: penetrations and epiphanies. We find, in this sense, the series that include skulls. The theme of the skull, which appears in Picasso in 1943 in his bronze Cabeza del muerto (Dead man’s head) appears in Lüpertz in two paintings from the series Zwischenraumgespenster, one entitled Halloween II and the other Theus IV, where a bottle appears in the foreground. This painting that will inspire two sculptures in bronze, entitled Trinkergeist, made later the same year. The skull as such had appeared the year before, in 1986, as a sculptural object on a shelf in the painting Kulturclan, and it appears again in Hateist from 1987, coming out of a melon, no longer a skull but a portrait.
Markus Lüpertz does not work with meanings or with meaningful forms; but rather the viewer should recognize, see and remember for him or herself the world of forms. His titles are poses rather than means; traveling companions in that maiden voyage that the praxis of painting is for the artist.
The Cuban poet José Lezama Lima, sitting in his baroque comfort, was asked once what he admired most in a writer, and his answer, translated to painting, serves for Markus Lüpertz, “Que manege fuerzas que lo arrebaten, que parezcan que van a destruirlo. Que se apodere de ese reto y disuelva la resistencia. Que destruya el lenguaje y que cree el lenguaje. Que durante el diá no tenga pasado y por la noche sea milenario. Que le guste la Granada, que nunca ha probado, y que le guste la guayaba que prueba todos los diás. Que se acerque a las cosas por apetito y que se aleje por repugnancia”
(“One that handles the forces that seize him, that seem as though they were going to destroy him. One that takes command of that challenge and breaks down resistance. One that destroys language and creates language. One that has no past during the day and at night is centuries old. One that likes the pomegranate that he has never tasted, and one that likes the guayaba that he eats every day. One that gets close to things out of appetite and that distances himself from them out of repugnance.”)
Markus Lüpertz interrupts the overwhelming continuum of art history detaining structures or forms, condensing them into series of visible elements (Stil-Malerei, Vesper, his sculptures of heroes). The titles of these series are pins that hold the suit of memory together. In these tales with melons, gourds, skulls, animals and shade, Lüpertz finds himself. In them that thought seems to be materialized: the slow discovery in memory and writing of what had remained stunned in silence.
(excerpt from Kosme de Barañano, “Markus Lüpertz: The Memory and The Form.” Originally published in Markus Lüpertz: The Memory and The Form, IVAM Institut Valencià D'Art Modern, Valencia, 2002, pp. 47–50.)