Georg Baselitz

Interview & Photography by: Mart Engelen



 

T his spring Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac hosted the opening of the exhibition of the new works by Georg Baselitz. The show includes a series of Baselitz new monumental sculptures, paintings and a number of works on paper.
 

Mart Engelen: When you started as a young artist,
do you remember the first thing that inspired you?
Georg Baselitz: My first inspiration was not as a
professional, because I was very young. I remember
that I saw an artist painting an oak tree in the countryside.
He was an unknown artist and the oak tree
looked so explosive! It was painted in the method
of ‘Die Neue Sachlichkeit’. I was only 13 or 14 and
thought: “What is this?”
ME: When you later entered the Academy of Art,
what did you specifically like?
GB: At the time in Germany it was a total different
situation than for instance in Amsterdam or Paris.
Just after the Second World War it was very difficult
for us. Germany was destroyed. There was no
hierarchy. There were no people you could believe
in, everything had been taken away also education
wise. I did not know who Kirchner was or Paul
Klee. I didn’t know anything. All of that changed in
1958. When I was twenty there was for the first time
at the Art Academy a big exhibition about American
Expressionism with Jackson Pollock and many
more contemporary artists.
It was so impressive, wonderful, but also astonishing
that you did not have a chance as a young artist
to create modern art. Because, for instance, De
Kooning was more understandable for the Europeans
than Pollock also Sam Francis. I thought: “this
is so great and surprising!”
I had a total different idea about America , so I said
to myself: “you have to do something totally different.
You cannot follow this. It was another time, another
world, another quality.” And then we heard
that there was an important museum in Amsterdam,
an important director and we heard about the COBRA
group.
So, many hitchhiked to Amsterdam. The first trip
I made together with my wife was to Amsterdam.
That was in 1958 or 1959 and we stayed in a little
hotel in the Red Light District for 5 Dutch guilders
a day. Separate. So we visited the Stedelijk Museum
but did not know anything about modernity,
Bauhaus and so on. I saw for the first time work of
Marcel Duchamp, Picasso and Malevich. For us
German artists Holland was actually the beginning
of our German career. Many of my colleagues had
exhibitions in the beginning of their careers at the
Stedelijk Museum of Eindhoven. After that followed
Amsterdam, France and the United States.
The Stedelijk Museum in Eindhoven had at that
time a very active director named Rudi Fuchs.
ME: What does Art mean to you these days?
GB: Well, it has changed a lot. Before, Art was determined
by certain doctrines, also styles. To give you
an example. When I started out, they said: “The image
of a table (“tafelbild”) is dead. You cannot paint
that anymore”. Then we have had the photographers,
after that the conceptualists, minimalists and
so on. Now nobody talks about that anymore. For
me, who always believed in this métier, I must say it
is an interesting development. Now you have a much
bigger audience. In the old days people were not interested
in Art. It was a small elite who were interested
in Art and who visited exhibitions. The group
who bought Art was even smaller. Nowadays there
is a big interest. You have many visitors of contemporary
Art shows. There are many collectors. It has
totally changed. By the way, the name of the Hotel in
Amsterdam was Elen.
ME: Never heard of it.
ME: You once said: “you cannot deny your origins”.
When we look at young artists today, I am tempted
to say that they are loosing their origins because of
globalization. What do you think about that?
GB: I don’t know, I cannot judge that. They always
ask me why are German artists so interesting? Well,
they all shared the same history: the Second World
War. And many were born in the DDR and lived
there. They also shared the feeling of being despised
by the whole world. That altogether appears to be a
good base to create Art.
We cannot say this of today’s new generation artists.
But some things will never change. Today we still
have German Art, American Art, Dutch Art. Even
when a German artist today will make pop-art, people
will see that it is made by a German, just like people
will recognize work that is made by an Italian or
a French artist.
ME: So there is still origin?
GB: Yes. I don’t know what it exactly is but I assume
a combination of roots and tradition.
ME: Your generation artists could find provocation
and inspiration through the Second World War.
How do today’s artists inspire themselves?
GB: I think they orientate in Art towards Art. When
you are an artist you have an incredible ambition.
What you believe is right, you have to pursue it. This
process is connected all the time with a lot of discipline
and aggression. They have to defend their Art,
so you have to be a provocateur. Otherwise it does
not work.
ME: When you want to become a great artist should
you then also play the role of ‘the great artist’?
GB: There are many ways. You can say the artist is
ill, that’s why he produces only one artwork a year.
Or, this artist is so introverted and precise he can only
produce one work a year. They say a lot of things
about artists just to manipulate the market and it is
seems all legitimate, but it is wrong of course. You
know there is a book about Rembrandt that explains
to us the entrepreneur Rembrandt. He totally manipulated
his own market. And today this happens
even more so.
ME: How can artists become good artists?
GB: First of all they need of course passion. They
have to own a sensitivity towards images more than
normal people. They have to suppress the feeling that
they just can
“do it like that”, because Art has nothing to do with
interpretation. With music, when you are talented,
you can play wonderfully a part of Chopin without
losing yourself.
In art that is impossible. You cannot paint like de
Kooning then you are not an artist. You are an interpreter.
We don’t need this in Art. That’s why a lot of
Art, what we see these days, is so diffuse. And you
think: “Why?”
ME: Do you collect Art yourself?
GB: Yes, I collect Art between 1500 and 1600. Specially
Parmigianino and his contemporaries. Apart
from that I also collect African Art, especially from
Congo.