Georg Baselitz’s first exhibition at White Cube in 2009 featured a series of expressionistic paintings of Lenin and Stalin, summoning up the political history of his native East Germany in the Soviet era. In his second show at the gallery, Between Eagles and Pioneers, history again filters into his paintings albeit through more ambiguous motifs – anonymous double portraits, dogs, and eagles. Painted characteristically upside down, the works present a mundus inversus in which our eye gravitates as much towards Baselitz’s dripped, acid-washed and stippled application of paint as towards the spidery figurative elements.
The upstairs gallery contains a series of expansive paintings dominated by lemon yellow. Three canvases depict pairs of contorted figures strongly reminiscent of Dix or Beckmann. Their titles refer to the slogan of the East German Young Pioneers movement, to which the artist belonged as a child: 'Seid Bereit, Immer Bereit' ('Be Prepared, Always Prepared'). The figures’ arms are thrust upwards (or, in these inverted images, downwards) in the youth movement’s customary greeting.
Against similar swathes of yellow, Baselitz has painted three pairs of dogs – variously coloured in or blotched out – bestriding mountains. Their paws branch out into diverging lines and rivulets, figuration bleeding into painterly or malerisch abstraction. Standing alert, the dogs seem to answer the command of the Young Pioneers. While invoking the historic symbolism of canine fidelity, they seem, in their upended state, strangely pathetic.
Baselitz’s creatures indeed appear poised between the ordinary and the emblematic. Downstairs is a series of massive paintings of eagles. It is impossible to avoid the association of the eagle with the German race and ancient civilizations in general; these blue and white works suggest a deposed and plummeting Aquila, whose vertiginous dive is emphasised by the drips that streak down across the canvases’ surfaces.
The most arresting works in the exhibition are the smaller prints arranged in a side room downstairs, which multiply the three motifs of the show in a variety of washed colours. More concentrated and varied than the paintings, their condensed scale paradoxically achieves the biggest impact.
There is a blank and open-ended quality to the paintings that is perhaps explained by the revelation in the press release that this body of work was first reproduced last year in the German newspaper Die Welt throughout its pages in place of news photographs, in a commemoration of the twenty years since reunification. In this sense they served as blank sites for projection inviting us to overlay them with contexts and associations.
-- James Cahill
All images courtesy White Cube
Images:Georg Baselitz, Gelbe Spitzen, 2010, Oil on canvas, 118 1/8 x 98 7/16 in. (300 x 250 cm), © the artist, Photo: Jochen Littkemann, Courtesy White Cube; Georg Baselitz, Fortuna, 2010, Oil on canvas, 106 5/16 x 81 1/2 in. (270 x 207 cm), © the artist, Photo: Jochen Littkemann, Courtesy White Cube.
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