The section also encompassess a video of the artist shot in 2010, on the occasion of the exhibition of Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale (2008), part of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection.
1. In what ways could war change your life? In what ways would it affect your work if you were an artist?
Georg Baselitz was born in 1938 in Nazi Germany. He spent his childhood and adolescence during World War II (1939–1945) and the post-war years. His paintings mirror the traumatic memories of that time.
In the aftermath of World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones controlled by USA, UK and France (West Germany), and the Soviet Union (East Germany).
As a result of this division, the country was fractured into two halves with opposite economic, political, and ideological systems: capitalist West Germany (or Federal Republic of Germany) and communist East Germany (German Democratic Republic): market vs. centrally planned economies.
“I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed nation, a destroyed society. And I didn’t want to re-establish an order: I’d seen enough of so-called order.” Georg Baselitz
2. What could be young Baselitz’s new feelings and experiences when moving from East Germany to West Germany?
In 1956, Baselitz began to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin-Weißensee (East Berlin). Just two semesters later, though, he was expelled for what was termed “socio-political immaturity.” Baselitz then left for West Berlin and enrolled at the art academy there. Looking for freedom, he found a divided society instead. The division became more evident in 1961 with the construction of the Berlin Wall. For 28 years, the Wall kept the city physically and ideologically divided. The infamous concrete barrier went down in 1989.
3. How would you feel if you were an artist and your work were criticized?
Baselitz’s first solo exhibition was held at Galerie Werner & Katz in West Berlin in 1963. Several of his works shocked the audience and some considered immoral and outrageous. Among them was The Big Night Down the Drain (1962–63), showing an erect penis of grotesque size. Baselitz has always seen himself as a different artist, going against the grain, away from clear ideological positions, artistic styles or movements, such as European Art Informel or American Abstract Expressionism.
4. Where did Baselitz’s Heroes come to life?
In 1965, Georg Baselitz was awarded a six-month residential scholarship at the Villa Romana in Florence. Here he became familiar with the masterpieces of sixteenth-century Mannerism—contorted naked bodies and small heads as a result of experimentation. He also got acquainted with Giuseppe Maria Mitelli’s engravings of seventeenth-century trades. The Italian experience made a profound impact on Baselitz. It was in Italy that the seed of his Heroes series was first planted.
5. What are the prevailing colors and formats in The Heroes and Remix series?
In less than two years (1965–66), Baselitz produced 60 paintings (same size, same grey/brownish palette), 130 drawings and 38 engravings on the same theme. They came to be known as New Types. However, it was not until 1973 that an exhibition catalogue subsumed these works under the term “Hero Paintings.” Remix came years later, in 2007–08. Instead of the tones that dominate The Heroes, these works are painted in cool, vibrant colors.
6. What does the word “hero” mean to you? Who are your heroes, both in fiction and in real life? Think of examples from classical antiquity to the present.
Baselitz’s Heroes, created half a century ago, are taciturn, vulnerable, wounded, disoriented. They are shepherds, rebels, painters, “new types.” Most of them are wearing tattered and torn uniforms in dull colors like mouse grey or earth ochre that mirror the characters’ wretched state. Baselitz’s Heroes are filled with post-war tension. They are vulnerable and powerless, and yet furious.
7. Why do you think that after The Heroes there came the Fracture paintings?
In 1966, Georg Baselitz developed the so-called Fractured Paintings, which continued the Heroes theme. But now he chose to focus on shapes and object perception rather than content. He introduced a physical (real) division in each painting, dividing the canvas into two or three horizontal sections and painting body fragments independently of one another. They are interrelated, but somehow they do not really form a cohesive figure.
8. What do you associate the word “remix” with?
Seven of the works in the exhibition belong to a series that Baselitz began in 2005 under the title Remix. In this new series, the artist revisited The Heroes in a different vein, using brighter hues and rapid, spontaneous, brushstrokes. This is how he sees the title word: “I like the word ‘remix’ because it comes from youth culture.”
9. What is the title of the work by Georg Baselitz that refers to Lenin and Stalin in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Collection?
Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale (2008) is a suite of 16 large-format paintings. In 2010, it was acquired by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to be part of the Collection. The series is based on the repetition of the same compositional structure: two upside-down male figures sitting next to each other, their penises exposed and their hands resting solemnly on their thighs. The compositional motif has its origin in Otto Dix’s renowned portrait The Artist’s Parents II (Die Eltern des Künstlers II, 1924). As in many of his works, here Baselitz refers to a precursor in the history of art, reinterpreting his work in his own way—in this case, replacing the figures in the original composition with dictators Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The series is subdivided into two groups: one of eight white and grey paintings on a black background and another of eight colorful paintings on a white background. [Watch video].