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Georg Baselitz: Hero or Goat?

Baselitz is a German artist who is in his seventies. I got to know his work about twenty years ago, and the photo above is from a book about his work that I bought back then. He began painting images upside down in the 1980s or thereabouts, and that's been the well he's gone back to ever since. Whether he's painting/sculpting/printmaking the right way up or the wrong way up, his style is derived from German Expressionism, all violent, crude brushmarks and clashing colour harmonies. His reasoning for painting things upside down, he has said, is that it forces him to think harder about what he's looking at it and how to render it. A few years ago, he gave an interview in which he said that there are no good women artists, and that women could never be great artists. Quite rightly, this caused a furor in the art world, with calls for his work to be boycotted because of his sexism. I have to say, I'm not entirely convinced that that's the right move. I mean, I pulled this book about his work off a shelf the other day because the painting illustrated on the cover caught my eye, and as I looked through the book I thought there were many powerful paintings in it. Can I turn off that response to his paintings even if I know and agree that he's a dickhead?


  1. I led a group discussion on this at the OLLI-University of Arizona on Art and Evil, in a segment on evil artists. Leni Riefenstahl, is another good place to start the discussion. Given the full resources of the Third Reich she defined modern sports movie and video coverage ever since. I listen to Wagner sometimes. Israelis generally won't. Does the art overwhelm the artist or not?

  2. That is indeed the question: how far can one separate the artist from the ideology? Should one do it at all? Is there a red line after which you shun them completely for their personal failings? Is life and art more complicated than that? And so on. Generally speaking, if an artist's work doesn't directly express their objectionable views, I can separate quite easily. (And sometimes even if they do. Celine's Voyage au Bout de La Nuit is incredibly anti-semitic, yet it can still be read as a great work of French literature. Perhaps.)

  3. Great question, especially with visual art, where you can argue that the art doesn't necessarily advance the politics (though Riefenstahl is a great counterexample to that oversimplified idea). Either way, it's just sad as a viewer and a fan. I used to love Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, but now I find it harder to watch/listen to them. Too much mental static that gets in the way of appreciating the art itself.


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