Jörg Immendorff: For all Beloved in the World

Haus der Kunst
Munich, Germany
14 September  2018 – 27 January 2019

The exhibition spans the time from Immendorff’s artistic beginnings at the Academy through his work as a socio-political agitator during the 1960s to the early 1980s to the allegorically encoded paintings of his last creative period. Instead of following a strict chronology, the nearly 200 works and sculptures in this retrospective are arranged into chapters, thus highlighting the decisive emphases of the work’s development.

A painting of a baby with red skin and a bouquet of flowers from 1966 lends the exhibition its title: “For all Beloved in the World.” The work is part of a larger series that depicts babies of different origins, chubby and laughing, trimmed to simplicity, “as a symbol of love and peace” (Jörg Immendorff).

With his then-partner Chris Reinecke, Immendorff (1945-2007) realized a series of Neo-Dadaist art actions from 1968 to 1970 under the title “Lidl,” a made-up word, which, when repeated several times, imitates the sound of a baby rattle. For the series Immendorff and Reinecke invited people to a rented storefront in Dusseldorf’s old town and performed happenings there. In one of these actions, Immendorff, wearing a baby mask and diapers, fired a paper cannon at the audience with paper balls containing messages like “hapmi dear” or again, “For all Beloved in the World.”

With “Lidl,” Immendorff and Reinecke countered provocative themes like the Vietnam War, the arms race, nuclear power and environmental activism – topics with which the student revolution was atmospherically charged – with something child-like and playful. Behind this supposed naivety were concrete references to current affairs. For example, Immendorff and Reinecke protested the Olympic Games, which were to be held in Munich in 1972, with the “Sport-Lidl” competitions in 1969: Reinecke competed in the long jump event, Immendorff in the 100-meter sprint.

During his training at the Academy in Dusseldorf, Immendorff received special support from Joseph Beuys, who taught the twenty-year-old art student and organized an exhibition at Schmela in Dusseldorf for him. Immendorff was deeply impressed by “his professor, his charisma, the concept of freedom he propagated and his belief in the consciousness-changing power of art” (Harald Szeemann) and expressed this admiration in his paintings through references to Beuys’ work (“Kleine Reise [Hasensülze],” 1990). In the series “Café Deutschland,” which the artist began in 1978 and which grew to include a total of 19 works, Beuys himself is present, as well as other well-known personalities from East and West, along with their respective symbols of power. These scenes with Bertold Brecht, Helmut Schmidt, Erich Honecker and A.R. Penck in a café as a utopian meeting place, were dramatically lit by Immendorff like expressionist plays.

Politically motivated paintings form another group in the exhibition. They also playfully explore formal dilettantism and contain direct statements on the political events of the day in Germany. Immendorff believed the fall of the Berlin Wall would not be brought about by politics, but would have to be initiated by the people. In his work he explored the “seam” between East and West. On 9 November 1989, this part of his ouevre became historical overnight. Immendorff became a visionary painter of German division and reunification.

The subject matter and tone of Immendorff’s work changed in 1998 when he was diagnosed with a nerve disease. He no longer painted his works himself, but directed others who did this. When speaking about this development, his wife Oda Jaune, a well-known artist, said Immendorff had lost two hands but gained eight. This final work phase includes key pieces such as “Letztes Selbstporträt I – Das Bild ruft” (Last Self-portrait I – The Painting Calls) (1998); the vanitas motif borrowed from Hans Baldung Grien of a runner balancing on two globes (“Untitled”), (2000); and “Selbstporträt nach dem letzten Selbstporträt” (Self-portrait after the Last Self-portrait) (2007). The political and social message gradually disappeared from Immendorff’s late work.

Image:

Jörg Immendorff
„Wo stehst du mit deiner Kunst, Kollege?“, 1973
Acryl auf Leinwand, 2-teilig
130 x 210 cm
© Estate of Jörg Immendorff, Courtesy Galerie Michael Werner Märkisch Wilmersdorf, Köln & New York