German Artist Georg Baselitz 'My Paintings are Battles'
Part 3: 'Women Simply Don't Pass the Test'
SPIEGEL: You started painting in East Germany, but you left early and continued to study in the West. Nowadays, the art market largely ignores the artistic legacy of East Germany, including the painters who received all the attention and promotion, the ones you referred to as "assholes" after German reunification. Is it delayed justice?
Baselitz: As always, the market is right.
SPIEGEL: Always? The market only embraces a few women. There are hardly any women among the most expensive artists.
Baselitz: Oh God! Women simply don't pass the test.
SPIEGEL: What test?
Baselitz: The market test, the value test.
SPIEGEL: What's that supposed to mean?
Baselitz: Women don't paint very well. It's a fact. There are, of course, exceptions. Agnes Martin or, from the past, Paula Modersohn-Becker. I feel happy whenever I see one of her paintings. But she is no Picasso, no Modigliani and no Gauguin.
SPIEGEL: So women supposedly don't paint very well.
Baselitz: Not supposedly. And that despite the fact that they still constitute the majority of students in the art academies.
SPIEGEL: It probably isn't a genetic defect.
Baselitz: I think the defect actually lies with male artists. Male artists often border on idiocy, while it's important for a woman not to be that way, if possible. Women are outstanding in science, just as good as men.
SPIEGEL: Women certainly aren't as loud and obtrusive when it comes to how they present themselves. With its desire for the sensational, the market isn't very forgiving of that.
Baselitz: Don't you know who Marina Abramovic is?
SPIEGEL: She doesn't paint, but she's an important performance artist, someone who shows that a woman can come a long way.
Baselitz: She has talent, as do many women. But a painter doesn't need any of that. In fact, it's better not to have it.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying it's better to not be talented?
Baselitz: Yes, much better.
Baselitz: Talent seduces us into interpretation. My sister could draw wonderfully, but she would never have hit upon the idea of becoming a painter. I never had that extreme talent.
SPIEGEL: For centuries, art was a craft, an almost physical labor that was performed by men. Men were also the first art historians. Everything was male, and it's simply stayed that way.
Baselitz: That has little to do with history. As I said, there are certainly some female artists: Helen Frankenthaler, Cecily Brown and Rosemarie Trockel.
SPIEGEL: The latter is German, and she currently has a big show in New York. She is also well-regarded worldwide.
Baselitz: There's a lot of love in her art, a lot of sympathy.
SPIEGEL: That doesn't sound like praise. So what does she lack, and what does Modersohn-Becker lack, to make you not rank the two of them among the great artists?
Baselitz: Let me qualify that. There is, of course, quite a lot of brutality in art. Not brutality against others, but brutality against the thing itself, against what already exists. When Modersohn-Becker painted herself, she looked very unpleasant, and extremely ugly
SPIEGEL: and nude, at a time, around 1900, when it was completely taboo for women to portray themselves in that way.
Baselitz: Exactly. But she hesitated to destroy others, in other words, to really destroy Gauguin by going beyond his art. Men have no problem with that. They just do it. But you must know that I do love women.
SPIEGEL: Of course.
Baselitz: Yes, I'm constantly in love -- with my own wife.
SPIEGEL: Does Jeff Koons -- another expensive contemporary artist -- have the necessary brutality? He supplies the world with sculptures of tulips and hearts.
Baselitz: The most unpleasant works of Jeff Koons that I've seen are those fuck paintings with Cicciolina. Just the fact that he made those paintings while at the same time talking about love and fathering a child I think it's dreadful.
SPIEGEL: So Koon's early art did have that brutality you demand.
Baselitz: I don't demand it. I just know that it has to be that way.
SPIEGEL: So, it has to be that way if you want to be a big artist?
Baselitz: Who wants to be a small artist?
SPIEGEL: You simply wanted to be different from others yourself.
Baselitz: I was always on the outside. It was the worst when I still wanted to be a professor, having to deal with colleagues and students, and having to listen to all that academic nonsense. It's really just a haze that keeps them busy. But all of that is fortunately over now, once and for all. Everything ended happily.
SPIEGEL: Wait! Georg Baselitz is happy?
Baselitz: Absolutely! Completely! It's fantastic! I can even be happy about my own paintings.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Baselitz, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Susanne Beyer and Ulrike Knoefel; translated from the German by Christopher Sultan