This idea of “looking toward the future” is nonsense. I realized that simply going backwards is better. You stand in the rear of the train—looking at the tracks flying back below—or you stand at the stern of a boat and look back—looking back at what’s gone.
German painter, printmaker, and sculptor Georg Baselitz is a pioneering postwar artist who rejected abstraction in favor of recognizable subject matter, deliberately employing a raw style of rendering and a heightened palette in order to convey direct emotion. Embracing the German Expressionism that had been denounced by the Nazis, Baselitz returned the human figure to a central position in painting.
Born Hans-Georg Kern in Deutschbaselitz, Saxony, Germany, Baselitz attended the Hochschule für Bildende und Angewandte Kunst in East Berlin, from which he was expelled in 1957 for “sociopolitical immaturity.” He then moved to West Berlin, where he attended the Hochschule der Künste and completed his postgraduate studies in 1962. It was during this time that he changed his surname to Baselitz. From his youth, Baselitz had been interested in the German Expressionists’ use of “primitive” sources such as folk art, children’s art, and art of the mentally ill. To assert his independence from popular art of the postwar years, Baselitz and fellow artist Eugen Schönebeck wrote the so-called “Pandemonic Manifestos” (1960–62), a violent and shocking expression of the frustration of working in postwar Germany. In 1963 Baselitz had his first solo exhibition, which was an immediate scandal: the painting Die große Nacht im Eimer (The Big Night Down the Drain) (1962–63), depicting a distorted figure holding an oversized phallus, was removed from the exhibition due to charges of obscenity and not returned to Baselitz until the conclusion of a lengthy trial. In 1965 Baselitz turned to the subject of “heroes.” Painted in thick impasto, the Helden (Heroes) (1965–66)—also known as the Neue Typen (New Types)—portray figures standing within natural landscapes. Disheveled and fragmented, these war-torn figures elicit an emotional response in the viewer as they evoke the events of recent history.
In 1969 Baselitz began to paint and display his subjects upside down in order to slow down his process of painting as well as the viewer’s comprehension of the motif. These iconic paintings, depicting inverted figures, landscapes, and still lifes, achieve a form of abstraction while maintaining figuration. Through the 1980s, his work took on an added density as he further employed a wide range of formal and art historical references, including the paintings of Edvard Munch and Emil Nolde. Concurrently, he began creating large-scale sculptures made of painted wood, presenting these works for the first time at the 1980 Biennale di Venezia, where he showed Modell für eine Skulptur (Model for a Sculpture) (1979–80).
The paintings that Baselitz produced between 1990 and 2010 marked another shift in his practice, displaying a more linear and abstract approach to the figure. In the Remix series (2005–08), Baselitz revisited his earlier works, graphically re-presenting his prior subjects such that their subtle meanings and technical innovations were made more explicit. In 2015 Baselitz’s Avignon (2014) paintings—a suite of eight towering nude self-portraits—were featured in the Biennale di Venezia. The following year related self-portraits with spectral figures were presented at Gagosian, West 21st Street, New York. In 2018 a large retrospective of Baselitz’s work was presented at the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Switzerland, and at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC.
Photo: Elke Baselitz
Extended through March 23, 2019
January 24–March 23, 2019
555 West 24th Street, New York
Georg Baselitz: What if...
Richard Calvocoressi narrates a tour of an exhibition of new paintings by Georg Baselitz in San Francisco, describing the visual effect of these luminous compositions and explaining their relationship to earlier works by the artist.
Artist to Artist: Georg Baselitz and Zeng Fanzhi
On the occasion of Georg Baselitz: Years later at Gagosian, Hong Kong, Zeng Fanzhi composed a written foreword for the exhibition’s catalogue and a video message to the German painter. Baselitz wrote a letter of thanks to the Chinese artist for his insightful thoughts.
Georg Baselitz: Life, Love, Death
Richard Calvocoressi writes on the painter’s latest bodies of work, detailing the techniques employed and their historical precedents.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2020
The Summer 2020 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Joan Jonas’s Mirror Piece 1 (1969) on its cover.
On the occasion of a career-spanning exhibition at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Richard Calvocoressi tracks the evolution of Georg Baselitz’s development from his early education in East Germany to his revelatory trip to Florence, in 1965, and beyond.
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
Georg Baselitz speaks with Sir Norman Rosenthal on the subject of his latest work. The two discuss these paintings, all depictions of self-portraits by artists from the past and present, and what it means to pay homage.
Morgan Falconer visits the artist’s studio outside Munich to learn more about his newest paintings, a series entitled Devotion.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019
The Spring 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Red Pot with Lute Player #2 by Jonas Wood on its cover.
Art Basel 2021
September 24–26, 2021, hall 2, booth C8
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel 2021 with modern and contemporary works by gallery artists, as well as several special entries in the Unlimited and Parcours sectors of the fair.
Gagosian’s booth in the main sector of the fair will feature works by Georg Baselitz, Glenn Brown, John Currin, Urs Fischer, Helen Frankenthaler, Titus Kaphar, Albert Oehlen, Sterling Ruby, and Mary Weatherford, among others. A selection of these works will also appear on gagosian.com and on Art Basel’s Online Viewing Room.
Urs Fischer, Better Halves Bitter Ends, 2020 © Urs Fischer. Photo: Stefan Altenburger
Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris
Georg Baselitz has donated six paintings to the Musee d’Art Moderne de Paris, which are now on view in the special exhibition Donation d’œuvres de Georg Baselitz, through January 9, 2022. The gift testifies to the museum’s ongoing relationship with the artist since his retrospective there in 1997, followed by his sculpture exhibition in 2011.
Georg Baselitz, La tête d’Abgar, 1984, Musee d’Art Moderne de Paris © Georg Baselitz. Photo: Jochen Littkemann
Art Basel Hong Kong 2021
May 21–23, 2021, booth 1d30
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong with a presentation of modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by gallery artists. New paintings by Georg Baselitz, Alex Israel, Ed Ruscha, and Sarah Sze are featured alongside exceptional works in a range of mediums by Louise Bonnet, Theaster Gates, Henry Moore, Nam June Paik, and others, uncovering formal and conceptual innovations and associations that span genres and aesthetic approaches.
Georg Baselitz, Noch ein Orangenesser, 2020 © Georg Baselitz
Closing this Week
Through September 19, 2021
Albertina Modern, Vienna
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this exhibition features more than a hundred contemporary artworks from the Albertina’s collection organized into seven different “chapters” conceived as independent yet loosely connected “worlds.” Work by Georg Baselitz, Katharina Grosse, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Albert Oehlen, Andy Warhol, and Franz West is included.
Georg Baselitz, B. für Larry (Remix), 2006 © Georg Baselitz
Contemporary European Art
Through October 10, 2021
Flughafen Tempelhof, Berlin
Presenting work by more than ninety established and emerging artists from thirty-four countries, Diversity United reflects the diversity and vitality of Europe’s contemporary art scene. The exhibition, which will travel to venues in Moscow and Paris, sheds light on subjects such as freedom, democracy, migration, territory, and political and personal identity. Work by Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Tatiana Trouvé, and Rachel Whiteread is included.
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled, 2010, installation view, Gagosian, Davies Street, London © Rachel Whiteread. Photo: Mike Bruce
Vedova accendi la luce
Through October 31, 2021
Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venice
This exhibition of work by Georg Baselitz, whose title translates to Vedova, turn the light on, includes a series of paintings divided into two sequences. The first part consists of ten canvases dedicated to the artist’s wife, Elke, depicting her as ice cream. The second part comprises seven paintings dedicated to Emilio Vedova, which are, for the most part, monochrome or bicolored; their titles afford the public a glimpse into the relationship between the artist and his longtime friend.
Installation view, Georg Baselitz: Vedova accendi la luce, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova, Venice, May 20–October 31, 2021. Artwork © Georg Baselitz
Donation d’œuvres de Georg Baselitz
Through January 9, 2022
Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris
Donation d’œuvres de Georg Baselitz displays six landmark paintings gifted by the artist to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris. Each donated work represents an essential stage within Baselitz’s forty-year career: the tree, which was the subject of his first upside-down image; a “remix” of his 1962–63 painting, Die große Nacht im Eimer (The Big Night Down the Drain); several heads, a favorite subject of the artist from the outset; and finally, a work from the series dedicated to Sigmund Freud.
Georg Baselitz, Tête, 1993, Musee d’Art Moderne de Paris © Georg Baselitz. Photo: Jochen Littkemann