Markus Lüpertz, Krieger, 1988 Öl auf Leinwand und Karton, 200 x 163 cm

Markus Lüpertz, Krieger (Warrior), 1988, oil on canvas on carton, 200 x 163 cm
Photo: Lea Gryze

Markus Lüpertz

In a suggested room, against a hastily painted background, several objects are presented here as if on a stage. A grey figure with a hunched torso stands on a pedestal to the left, holding a sign. The grid in her face is reminiscent of scars. The head of a stringed instrument leans against the pedestal.On the right a furniture-like structure is shown, an athletic figure appears in it. It is surrounded by things that are difficult to define, above it one sees shoe soles, below it a collection of objects, including an overturned antique column. In the middle of the whole scene hangs a mask. It has similar scars to the figure on the left.

This depiction falls into several central phases in Lüpertz’s career as a painter. Since the 1970s, the artist has used so-called German motifs such as steel helmets, shovels or flags laid down in empty landscapes. Could the figure on the left be a scarred “German warrior” who, like the rubble around him, recalls the aftermath of the Second World War, while the only intact figure has shrunk to a small, nameless stencil of a warrior?

The dithyramb

At the same time, in what he calls dithyrambic painting, the artist seeks a synthesis between representationalism and abstraction, an “Apollonian-disciplined intoxication”. The dithyramb (Gr. dithýrambos) is an ecstatic choral song from the ancient Greek cult of Dionysus. Lüpertz borrows it from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Dionysian Poetry”. With its dense, almost cubist motifs, “Warrior” oscillates between abstraction and figuration, the head of the stringed instrument no longer being used to accompany a song of praise. To whom, then, is this song of praise to be sung?

Detail: Markus Lüpertz, Krieger (Warrior)

Detail: Markus Lüpertz, Krieger (Warrior)

Der dysfunktionale Körper

Lüpertz’s turn to ancient motifs has been followed since the 1980s by a prolonged preoccupation with the work of Nicolas Poussin and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. In Poussin’s Baroque painting, the powerful human bodies dominate the thoroughly composed space. In Lüpertz’s work, a completely different effect emerges. The painter creates a severe, claustrophobic frame. With this frame, he compresses the bodies and makes them dysfunctional. At the same time, Lüpertz counteracts Corot’s linearly structured landscape painting in olive and ochre, which offers wide panoramic views.

All in all, Lüpertz puts together a picture here that reveals parallels to German history: to broken German pride, to unprocessed traumas, to post-war Germany, which relied on forgetting and silencing rather than on illuminating biographical ambivalences and National Socialist continuities. Lüpertz’s painting remains relevant because the image of these elements lives on in us and can provide the framework for a discourse.