Widely known for his inverted portraits, landscapes and still-lifes, Baselitz has long cultivated a subversive approach to figurative imagery. The artist’s debut exhibition in 1963 at Galerie Michael Werner in Berlin caused a scandal with its raw painterly style and disturbing content. In the following years Baselitz created the renowned Hero and Fracture paintings, and a radical change in the artist’s work occurred in 1969 with his first inverted pictures. Seeking to, in his own words, “liberate representation from content”, landscape, nude and still-life motifs were rendered upside-down, focusing the viewer’s attention foremost on the painterly and optical elements of the picture.
The works on view in Georg Baselitz: 1977–1992 demonstrate the artist’s insistence on the motif as a catalyst for painterly invention. Engaging a limited formal vocabulary based on figure and landscape, Baselitz explores the broad expressive potential of representational imagery in Akt und Flasche (Nude and Bottle), one of the major diptychs from the late 70s, and the grand four-part work Birnbaum I (Pear Tree I) of 1978. A series of intimately scaled charcoal studies depicts birds, houses and trees as serial motifs, collapsing and reforming into grids and other structural forms. A rhythmic, primordial energy resonates in several large pastels and in the important canvas, Serge, painted in 1990. Though ostensibly portraits, these paintings test the limits of representational legibility and create a dizzying spatial dynamic.