German Artist Georg Baselitz: 'My Paintings are Battles'

By Susanne Beyer and Ulrike Knöfel

Photo Gallery: Georg Baselitz on Art, Talent and Women Photos
DPA

German painter Georg Baselitz has made a name for himself -- and a fortune -- by being provocative. In a SPIEGEL interview, he stays true to form by bashing Germans and their museums and saying that the best artists have less talent and can't be women.

The house of Georg Baselitz, one of the world's most important painters, is hard to find. It's on the waterfront of Ammersee, a lake near Munich, and hidden behind other villas. Designed by Basel architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, it's probably one of the most beautiful residences in Germany. Fearing architecture tourists, Baselitz doesn't allow journalists to photograph his house. The 75-year-old meets with SPIEGEL in his studio next door. Much of what he says seems cantankerous, but he clearly enjoys his tirades, which he delivers with a mischievous smile.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Baselitz, you've just turned 75, and you've been famous for the last 50 years. At the beginning, you were the painter with the wild and dangerous works, and the police even confiscated some of your paintings. Now you are lionized, and your works are coveted around the world. What's harder for an artist to deal with, rejection or recognition?

Baselitz: First of all, I seriously doubt that what you say about recognition is true.

SPIEGEL: Gallery owners and collectors are both crazy about you, and museums are constantly singing your praises.

Baselitz: But not the media.

SPIEGEL: Come now, you're written about often.

Baselitz: Is that so? I've had some major exhibitions abroad lately, and yet there was hardly a word in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), for example. And that was only because I had previously said that the relevant editors at the FAZ suffered from pandemic mental enfeeblement.

SPIEGEL: What makes you say that?

Baselitz: I received the graphics prize at Art Cologne three years ago. Before that, it had been awarded to people who undoubtedly deserved recognition, such as Sigmar Polke. But, in my case, the FAZ wrote that it was a petty cash prize.

SPIEGEL: The prize money is €10,000 ($13,400), which is a paltry amount when compared to the sums your paintings fetch.

Baselitz: The prize money is the same each year, but when I get it, it's called "petty cash." I think that's contemptuous and insulting to the people who award the prize and to the graphics medium.

SPIEGEL: You're one of the most famous and expensive painters in the world. But you seem to notice your critics more than your acclaim.

Baselitz: For me, it's about more than that; it's about Germans' relationship with art. For instance, in Germany, we often hear the absurd complaint that museums don't have the money to buy paintings. Of course, I'm not talking about me and my paintings. There are, after all, more popular painters in this country.

SPIEGEL: Only one of them is more expensive: Gerhard Richter.

Baselitz: Much more expensive. And he certainly pays more taxes than I do. Despite all the taxes people pay, there supposedly isn't any money in this country for art. Of course, this makes an artist ask himself: "Well, then, what are you doing with the 100 million I pay each year? What happened to that money?" And he doesn't get an answer.

SPIEGEL: Now you're no longer complaining about the media, but about museums.

Baselitz: Yes, I am grumbling a bit. The Rhineland was once the center of art in Germany. Then it was Berlin, but now things have become quiet there, as well. Still, Berlin has the National Gallery, a name that suggests that the museum ought to be there for national art. There are similar museums all over the world, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the MoMA in New York and the Reina Sofia in Madrid. They all fulfill their purpose and do what has to be done.

SPIEGEL: And what's that?

Baselitz: They collect what's important in their respective countries. In Berlin's National Gallery, however, this isn't the case. They're interested neither in me nor the other usual suspects. It's simply a German reality.

SPIEGEL: What do you attribute that to?

Baselitz: To the directors and the mood.

SPIEGEL: What mood?

Baselitz: Spending money on art has always been frowned upon in this country -- even earlier, when my and others' paintings cost almost nothing. Something is always more important. The people in charge are always peddling reasons that others seem to accept. Those who don't drink and aren't crazy, or who don't attract attention with how they behave in public, aren't noticed in art.

SPIEGEL: You sound furious. We were actually planning on discussing whether the situation in the art world isn't better than ever.

Baselitz: That's a justified question seeing that everyone apparently has the feeling that that's the case. There's a market for art, and things are indeed going swimmingly, especially for German artists. But everything takes place in America and in London, where there are quite a few wealthy, engaged people. What motivates them to buy art is a different question, but they do.

SPIEGEL: These collectors are also buying your art. What more could you ask for?

Baselitz: That things were also better here, and that we weren't just dealing with know-it-alls.

SPIEGEL: People in this country are very interested in art. The museums are reporting record visitor numbers.

Baselitz: I've painted, but I've also done graphics since as long as I can remember. So even people with little to spend could afford it. But even the graphic works are only bought by those who buy the big, expensive paintings. I think that's troublesome.

SPIEGEL: Why do you say that again?

Baselitz: Because everything is drifting apart, and because everything is moving away from the ordinary public.

SPIEGEL: How do you explain the many visitors to museums?

Baselitz: The museums! They say that people are going there. I had two big exhibitions in Dresden, but no one went. There are plenty of tourists on the street in Dresden, but they'd rather go to the Green Vault (museum) or to see the Old Masters. Other contemporary artists have had the same experience. And look at music. Alfred Schnittke was an important contemporary composer, and he lived in Germany, but no one here has heard of him. Everyone has heard of Mozart, and many believe that he can still be found in that little house in Salzburg, which is why people stand there in line. I think that our music and our art belong to our era. If the public doesn't show up, it must be stupid.

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1. money is not everything!
Inglenda2 01/27/2013
This is a most strange idea from a so-called artist whose pictures would never find a place in my home. One of the best artists in the current times is a British woman! Her name is Ann Ardron and her works of art are worth looking at, which cannot always be said of those by Georg Baselitz. Not every piece of colour put to canvas is worth the money paid. As with designer clothing or cars, often it is the name and not the quality which causes the price to be so high. There appears to be extreme sexism in the world of art, not just in that of national politics and commerce.
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