In 1965/66, Georg Baselitz executed approximately 60 paintings and 130 drawings which have entered art history under the collective term of Hero Paintings or New Types. These paintings of dramatically distorted and powerful figures reveal a remarkable tension between aggression and melancholy, between grand gesture and trepidation. The lone male figures appear as wounded and vulnerable characters in torn uniforms. They stand in implied battered landscapes, surrounded by recurring utensils, including painters’ accessories and instruments of torture. In these depictions, Baselitz explored his own individual position and evolution as a painter. In doing so, he linked personal experiences with artistic and literary impressions.
With these desolate, melancholic Types or Heroes, the then 27-year-old artist consciously defied any clear form of artistic and political categorization, refusing to be appropriated by existing systems. During the Cold War era, he balked at any attribution to ideologically, dogmatically connoted styles, such as “international” abstraction or “socialist” realism. With his fundamentally skeptical attitude, he emphasized the ambivalent aspects of his own age and the past, which was yet to be processed The artist depicted a supposed reality, an attitude born of an inner necessity, in a way that was frowned upon in the context of the success story of Germany’s economic miracle.
In the recent Remix Paintings, Baselitz has revisited the most provocative aspects of his own history, such as Die grosse Nacht in Eimer and Die grossen Freunde, and made new versions or interpretations of them with the experience and the benefit of hindsight. Enlarged and rapidly painted with swathes of bright, transparent hues across the white canvas and explosive, meandering lines, the RemixPaintings are radical transubstantiations—part caricature, part ghost—of their muted, more ponderous predecessors. The spontaneity with which they are executed gives rise to mnemonic flashes of things past, present, and future. The impulse to improve, clarify, and update is clearly evident, but the haunting, fleeting quality of the Remix works also has to do with a mature artist’s meditations on time, presence, failure, and possibility.
Even today, the perception remains that Georg Baselitz has found an eternal formal language for his struggle to express an attitude and self-assertion in an era marked by instability.
An exhibition of the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.