As a new exhibition of his works opens at Glyndebourne, the artist argues that German culture is entwined with powerby Sameer Rahim / May 29, 2015 / Leave a comment
Over the last half century, the German artist Georg Baselitz has been a radical presence in the art world, his work grappling with the difficult history of post-war Europe. His arresting painting, The Big Night Down The Drain (1963), featuring a dwarf with an erect penis and Hitler hairdo, was put on display in West Berlin in 1963 at the Galerie Werner & Katz. That work, a savage portrait of the pathetically assertive masculinity of the Führer, was considered so obscene that the police confiscated it and all the other works in the exhibition. Since then, Baselitz’s fortunes have changed considerably and he is now recognised as one of Europe’s most important contemporary artists. When he was Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder hung one of his paintings in his office—an image of a falling eagle, the symbol of Germany—and last year, Baselitz was the subject of two exhibitions in London: at the National Gallery and the Gagosian. In the same year his painting The Brücke Chorus sold at Christie’s for £5m.
His latest project might seem—at first glance, at least—a somewhat lighter affair. It’s a series of paintings of freewheeling ladies’ legs exhibited at a pop-up White Cube gallery in the grounds of Glyndebourne in East Sussex. The feminine theme is intriguing, especially as he has gone on record as dismissing the talents of women artists. He told The Guardian recently that women’s relative lack of success in the arts is “nothing to do with education, or chances, or male gallery owners. It’s to do with something else and it’s not my job to answer why it’s so. It doesn’t just apply to painting, either, but also music.” Yet as Baselitz told me through a translator when I spoke with him in the bucolic grounds of the opera house, he does like the British artist Tracey Emin. “I admire Tracey Emin for her daring and for her presentation as a female artist. I admire her as an intellectual and as an artist.”
Look closer and the ladies’s legs paintings seem more sinister: black paint bleeds from the shoes, and the arrangement of their legs echoes the outline of a Nazi swastika. For Baselitz, as for…