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Martin Kippenberger

From: blp
Category: Art
Date: 08 February 2006


Great, but unsatisfactory. Giving just half the fourth floor to a 'retrospective' of Kippenberger, his first in this country, is ridiculous. It's not a retrospective. It doesn't and can't even pretend to completeness. Thus hamstrung, the curators have chosen three or four of Kippenberger's major installations and interspersed them with fragments and drawings. There's the inevitable vitrine of brilliant Kippenberger ephemera - invitation cards and catalogues mainly - looking not a jot different from their reproductions in books of his work. The paintings in the same room, all part of one installation, are surprisingly thrilling to a jaded ex-painter like me and in the next room, his cack-handed Henry Moore/Barbara Hepworth knock-off, The Hunger Family, is dynamite. Equally good, and the most impressive curatorial feat, is the huge 'Happy End to Kafka's Amerika' in the penultimate room. But there isn't a crucified latex frog or a giant pill capsule in sight and that doesn't seem right.

My cavil, aside from just wanting a lot more, is wanting more chaos and more engagement. The hanging of the drawings is unbearably polite and if Kippenberger was in bands and made records, why can't we hear them rather than just being tantalysed by their sleeves in the vitrine? Why, also, Tate marketting department, can't we buy reproductions of the beautiful posters he made to promote his own shows rather than just the anodyne and anaesthetic Tate branded tat you routinely produce?

Maybe the biggest problem with these shows, from Kafka, to Beuys, to Judd, to Warhol, is just the rotten, polite little spaces they're shown in. The tininess of the third or fourth rooms always manages to trivialise the work, even when it's something great like Soup Cans. Even the large rooms sometimes aren't big enough. The Kafka's Amerika piece isn't all there because silly old Herzog and Demeuron apparently didn't know enough about contemporary art to provide any spaces big enough to accommodate installations of this size. Or maybe the solution would be to take these kinds of artists up to the top floor galleries where the spaces are a bit more exciting.

But no, actually, I'm just going to go back to complaining that there isn't nearly enough. I want a retrospective to be something to get lost in, not feel that a life and career can be summed up by a few tidy extracts from key moments - especially if it's going to cost the better part of a tenner to get in. It's a bit like the way you can go to a 'gig' these days and it turns out to be a fifteen minute set in a club before the DJ takes over. You feel really cheated. But also, you feel that nobody who doesn't already know something about the artist is going to get much of a picture of them.

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