If you ever had the chance to visit contemporary art museums in Germany, you will find yourself wondering if there is any way around Baselitz’s upside-down paintings. There are many of his paintings in various permanent collections, one could argue too many, as if post-World War 2 German painting consisted of nothing other than Baselitz.
Re-discovered by a newer generation of painters in Europe and abroad, Baselitz seems to be enjoying himself these days. In a recent interview with the German “art magazin,” he is exceedingly confident in expressing his questionable views on art.
Asked about the biographical subject of his paintings, Baselitz answers:
“You know, there is this tendency in art today that one has to open up as much as possible not by comparing oneself to other worlds, but by incorporating these. Other cultures, age groups, genders - this whole idea of “we are all people in the end.” I find this rather dubious. I insist on the following: remain white and remain black, remain a woman and remain a man, remain German and remain Russian! Naturally, the world is made up of entirely different appearances. But this is uninteresting to art.”
If all artists cared about and dealt with could be found in their immediate environment and experience, we would end up with impoverished art works. Why not make a painting of what is unfamiliar and less understood rather than showing a slice of our every-day surroundings? I disagree with Baselitz and think that - to the contrary - artists and in particular contemporary painters deliver impoverished works when they do not bother to go beyond pop-cultural references rooted in their childhood (i.e. cartoons, films, TV, music, etc.) or direct observations. Why should it be unthinkable to paint a subject that is outside our cultural area?
And let’s think about artists who might be immigrants to western countries: what does it mean to remain Russian in Germany then? What does it mean to be African-born but living and working in the United States? What does it mean to keep an identity that is linked to your appearance (for example ‘black’) while you feel neither black nor white? What does it mean to remain a woman while you wish to be a man or vice versa? If you agree with Baselitz, you choose to remain ignorant and close-minded. In a way, Baselitz’ world ends with his perception of it. Beyond his world there is nothing to be found. What lies beyond it, is the business of others.
I guess some painters are bad with words and ultimately with formulating ideas. Baselitz prefers to stick to well-defined categories and subjects (e.g. I am German, not Russian; hence my experience is that of a German). Not so much in the way he paints his experiences, but in the way he understands these. While his work suggests openness and experiment by turning the process of painting into a subject in its own right, his work’s scope is, I dare say, conservative. As a German born in Poland and immigrated to the United States, I feel embarrassed for you, Georg Baselitz.