Thaddaeus Ropac Seoul will open on 6 October 2021 with an exhibition of new works by Georg Baselitz, whose historic connection with the city dates back to his first institutional solo exhibition in Korea at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in 2007. On view for the first time, the twelve paintings and twelve drawings were created specifically with the opening of the new gallery space in Seoul in mind. One of the most important artists of our time, Baselitz shaped a new identity for German art in the second half of the 20th century and has had a profound influence on international art since 1960. The exhibition will coincide with the opening of the artist’s largest retrospective to date, at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Despite the wanderings of missionaries, images have remained different in the world. But in Korea and in Germany, people tell each other similar tales. The art here and there are two great monuments. Quite incomparable, but magnificent. Today, pictures are faster than airplanes, and that is very exciting. —Georg Baselitz, 2021
With a unique and distinctive artistic vocabulary, Baselitz has continually renewed his practice through formal developments. In his works, the artist revisits motifs from his own extensive oeuvre, while integrating subtle references to art history that offer a reflection on the significance of painting itself.In his new series of large-scale canvases, Baselitz devotes himself to the motif of his wife Elke, whose image has occupied a prominent position in the development of his practice for over 50 years.
The new works show the multipartite figure of Elke, abstracted yet sensuous, suspended in isolation in an undefined space. Baselitz abstracts and defamiliarises his subject, yet the representation preserves the composition’s expressiveness. In order to empty the form of its content, the artist has been inverting his compositions since 1969, thereby revolutionising a medium that was regarded as conventional. Through this novel format, his works navigate between abstraction and figuration. When painting Elke, this gesture also serves to disrupt any harmony or beauty that was likely to seep into the portrayal of a figure so familiar to him.
In his choice of the exhibition title Hotel garni – the French name for a low-cost category of hotel – Baselitz references the scene of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon through a characteristically humorous chain of associations. He is playful with words while summoning the confrontational composition and unconventional femininity of one of the greatest artistic achievements of his historic forebear. Not for the first time does his choice of title invoke Picasso, who is also referenced in Baselitz’s celebrated Avignon series, shown at the 2015 Venice Biennale. As early as the 1960s, during the course of his visits to Paris, he saw the works of Pablo Picasso, as well as those by Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffet, Eugène Leroy and Wols – works imbued with an existentialism that has impacted his own approach.
The material aesthetics of these artists have continued to influence Baselitz’s practice ever since. In his most recent works, Elke’s dominating physical presence is presented to the viewer through the transfer of colour, introducing an element of chance into his compositions. This technique evokes associations with Andy Warhol’s series of Rorschach paintings and Blotted Line Drawings, while subtly alluding to German Expressionism, French Art Informel and the freedom of American abstract painting.
In recent works that feature Elke, Baselitz introduces existentialist connotations, while engaging in the struggle of representation, the inescapability of subjectivity, and the representation of the self through a significant other. The artist comments: I have always struggled with the fact that something hinders me in my paintings. What has always hindered me – and that has now improved significantly – is the so-called ‘existential’. The fact that there is something within me that occupies me and that I cannot eliminate from the pictures. I’ve been trying to get out of this for a long time. 60 years now. And for the last 20 years, I must say, I’ve been quite successful. Eventually, it all worked out.