In October, a sprawling selection of Martin Kippenberger’s works—171 posters and 180 invitation cards—filled the walls of London gallery Dickinson. The show covered a significant span of the German artist’s oeuvre, from nightclub event invites to punk show posters to collaged documents in Portuguese (from a trip to Brazil in the ’80s, which he wittily referred to as “the magical misery tour.”)
This eclectic body of work was arranged like a traditional salon, with pieces plastering the walls in a floor-to-ceiling display—the accumulation of which read like an epic visual biography of the artist’s creative life. In the feature essay found in the exhibition catalog, Roberto Ohrt extols how Kippenberger “put a spotlight on the otherwise neglected underbelly of the art world.” Indeed, Kippenberger’s collaged ephemera and richly layered prints made a case for the legitimacy of posters as a medium for artistic expression, at a time when they weren’t recognized as such by institutions of fine art. His lasting legacy is his ability to draw fragments of visual culture in from the margins, with riotous success.
In the series “Hotel Drawings,” Kippenberger sketches on hotel stationary and creates patterns that foreshadow future work. For instance, the gridded lines and industrial parts found in Untitled (Ohne Titel) (1986) and Untitled (Hotel Plaza) (1986) relate to METRO-Net, a large-scale project that imagined a global network of subway systems (installed between 1995 and 1997). Objects like lamps and food first appeared in doodles like Untitled (Ohne Titel) (1982) and then re-appeared in finished works on display in Uber das Uber.
Some posters on view were designed by other artists, like contemporary heavyweights Donald Baechler, Mike Kelley, and Christopher Wool. One stand-out work, by Wool: a black and white print with large stenciled text spelling out “COTE D AZUR NP KIPPE.” Like Kippenberger, Wool works across mediums, playfully pairing text and successfully challenging fine art ideals.
Kippenberger’s posters often feature subversive messages, scrawled out in wiggly, hand-written letters. In many ways the artist set a precedent for the sort of collaged, appropriated imagery and rough-hewn aesthetic that came into fashion in the early ’80s, especially to promote punk shows and pop-up art exhibits.
“Martin Kippenberger: The Posters and Invitation Cards 1977-1997” was on view at Dickinson, London, Oct. 5th–Oct. 31st, 2015.