Exhibition: ‘Material Matters’ – Georg Baselitz, Basel

  • Exhibition: ‘Material Matters’ – Georg Baselitz, Basel

Material Matters

I was excited to meet yesterday finally one OCA student in ‘real life’. I went together with Sibylle, who was visiting her home country Switzerland, the exhibition Material Matters‘ at the Foundation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. (February 6 – April 8, 2018), a collection of paintings and sculptures that would address materiality, and the body as human body as well as material body. This collection was attached to the major retrospective of Georg Baselitz, one of the German post-was artists and mostly known for his figurative paintings top-down.

We are a bit unsure about the motivation and curation of the exhibition. Why these works? For me it seemed that this exhibition was more of an attachment to the bigger Baselitz show, a selection from the museum’s collection with special focus on post-war painting.

Entering ‘Material Matters’ started with works by Cézanne, and Picasso. Modernist painter who explored the pictorial space in its internal relationship and considering the painting in itself as an object beyond external representations. Sculptures of Giacometti complemented the paintings throughs their spatial presence as material and physical bodies. Some paintings of Dubuffet were shown that I already explored during the Dubuffet retrospective in that same museum in 2016. 

What added a different twist to the exhibition was a rectangular ‘carpet’ on the floor made from colorful candies. After asking the guard about this, he couldn’t say anything about the motivation or intention, just that one can take a candy. They would have a good stock in the basement to fill back with new candies. And that the ‘carpet’ moves from day to day in space. Paint or color in a bodily form, ready to consume. The outer shape made from small candies, reminded me of the shapes of birds flying in the sky, when thousands of birds are establishing an outer form, a constellation, dynamic and temporal.

During my UVC studies I looked deeper at some color field paintings of Barnett Newman, especially his work  ‘Vir Heroicus Sublimis‘, 1950-51 and I was delighted to see one of his paintings in original in this exhibition Uriel, 1955 (Fig. 1). I was wondering about the platform in front of the painting, whether it was to prevent visitors to come too close to the surface or whether it was part of Newman’s work. I couldn’t find that platform online anywhere else. But it kept me thinking of how to embrace wall and floor space in one work. An approach of spatial exploration I looked at during part 1, here to see how the final painting could act or be activated by surrounding space and objects. Through the platform the painting appears elevated, kind of altar effect, enforcing the painting to be seen as an eternal symbol instead of an object of perception.

The painting was situated in a very large room with plenty of space to step back. At the opposite wall in quite a distance from it was Claude Monet‘s Waterlilies. Both works could be see as an approach to the sublime: Newman’s approach through the scale of flat paint and the visual perception of the strips embracing the psychological dimension of the human condition and comprehension. Monet’s approach through an expansive painterly exploration of the beauty of nature itself.

Barnett Newman 'Uriel', 1955 - Photo taken during my visit

Fig. 1: Barnett Newman ‘Uriel’, 1955 – Photo taken during my visit  – an painterly approach towards the sublime. What is the platform for?


We had longer talk with one of the museum guards around the work by Max Ernst Humbolt current, 1951-2. It is a painting on canvas showing a clear wooden structure through. The discussion went around whether this is painted on wood or on canvas. My assumption was that Ernst used the frottage technique (one of the Surrealism techniques).  The guard was a bit negative about this work, that children could do that,  but acknowledging that apparently it is one of the favourite visitor’s work.

Pablo Picasso 'Femme au chapeau', 1961-3. Photos taken during my visit

Fig. 2: Pablo Picasso ‘Femme au chapeau’, 1961-3. Photos taken during my visit – an expansion of flatness into space. Why not painted at the back? Close to the wall, preventing walking around?


One work kept my attention as it resonated with my current coursework. It was the sculptural painting by Pablo Picasso Femme au chapeau, 1961-3 (Fig. 2). A cubist painting expanded in space, made from painted metal. Perhaps more a relief, as the total depth was not more than perhaps 20-30 cm.

Parts of the front connected with the back, holding the figure together, a work that invites the viewer to move around, to see from different angles. Although it was placed close to the wall, one could see that the back of the figure was not painted, just covered with a greyish tone and the artist’s signature. As if the work had to be looked at from the front, as a painting. Perhaps a subtle move, but not completed, from Modernism to Minimalism. His work relates to the sculptures on display, the African Tribal wooden figures e.g. from Kongo. But they were placed in a separate room, a notion of art separation? A notion of western hegemonic art conception? It is known that artist’s as Picasso were very much influenced by African Tribal art. What makes me wonder how the exhibition could be curated differently, more of juxtaposition? The theme was still ‘Material and Body’  , thus each work as art object got his unique place for contemplation. 

I was fascinated by the pure materiality and impact of material process in Anselm Kiefer‘s work Lilith , 1997 (Fig. 3). I was inspired by his incorporation of found objects already in painting 1, and found that seeing the original as a bodily and spatial encounter added much more to it. In this work he used shellac and emulsion. I assume that the material properties of the combination led to the decay or breaking apart of the integrity of painted buildings. A material phenomena that supports his post-war subject matter.

Anselm Kiefer 'Lilith', 1997 - oil, emulsion, shellac, acrylic paint, lead, hairs and ashes on canvas. Photos taken during my visit

Fig. 3: Anselm Kiefer ‘Lilith’, 1997 – oil, emulsion, shellac, acrylic paint, lead, hairs and ashes on canvas. Photos taken during my visit – materiality and physical properties of materials. Opening up, breaking close surfaces (shellac and ?)

Georg Baselitz

We looked at the Baselitz show and started with his newest works from 2017. It made us wonder till when one would consider an artist as post-war artist, up to 2017? 

Baselitz is known for a male chauvinist attitude and perhaps of self induced isolation as an artist (whereas I assume he lives quite well from selling his art). And apparently he claimed that ‘women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact.’ (Wullschlager, 2016). And he expresses his view quite in a Greenbergian Modernist perspective when he states that

“The context where everything has to be linked to the sociopolitical is not something I’m interested in” – Georg Baselitz

Nevertheless, seeing his large scale paintings was an experience. But seeing a full range of upside down portraits is making one quite dizzy. It was good that we started with his latest works: nude self-portraits, upside down, rather abstract and gestural in painting with monochrome background, the decay body as subject matter. For me a more personal interrogation and reflection of the artist at his age of 80. I could sense a more intimate approach, also a more authentic one? He added a layer of sprayed(?) light paint onto it what made the figures glowing from inside. At times I got a sense of deep diving into the black ocean, head down, e.g. Dystopisches Paar, 2015 (Fig. 4). Truly a sense of under water

Georg Baselitz 'Dystopisches Paar', 2015. At: http://www.artribune.com/dal-mondo/2018/01/mostra-georg-baselitz-basilea/attachment/georg-baselitz-dystopisches-paar-2015-courtesy-of-the-artist-and-white-cube-georg-baselitz-2018-photo-jochen-littkemann-berlino/

Fig 4: Georg Baselitz ‘Dystopisches Paar’, 2015. At: http://www.artribune.com/dal-mondo/2018/01/mostra-georg-baselitz-basilea/attachment/georg-baselitz-dystopisches-paar-2015-courtesy-of-the-artist-and-white-cube-georg-baselitz-2018-photo-jochen-littkemann-berlino/  – translucent layer of paint ‘mist’, an atmospheric, ephemeral appearance. A glowing of form from inside.

Baselitz is also a sculptor, and I found the reversal of form (in his paintings through upside down perspective) articulated through a sculpturing into versus forming out of (Fig.5), a painted sculpture. One aspect I noticed throughout this exhibition was how often the color yellow was applied as a dominant color. This let me reflect some tutor’s comment on my considered choice of color, and the use of yellow a color at times challenged more often.

Georg Baselitz 'Dresdner Frauen', 1989. At: http://www.dw.com/de/der-die-kunstszene-auf-den-kopf-stellte-georg-baselitz-wird-80/a-42109628

Fig. 5: Georg Baselitz ‘Dresdner Frauen’, 1989. Deutsche Welle (2018) – yellow color and the reversal of form


I was fascinated by one figurative painting Wer alles?Was alles?, 2016 (Fig. 6) where the figure seemed to advance, kind of collage effect. With a closer view I could discern that Baselitz made this effect most likely through taping off the outline, applying thicker paint inside and tearing off the tape. There were visible ephemeral translucent areas around the edges, an effect that I discovered in one of my painting 1 works, but with less spatial extension  – click here

But this painting intrigued me also for its exploration of edges: hard, blurred, and with a sense of leaking. Compared with Dystopisches Paar, 2015 (Fig. 4) the paint mist is not there, what makes it the overall appearance harder, bolder in expression.

Georg Baselitz 'Wer Alles? Was Alles?', 2016 - oil on canvas. Photo taken during my visit

FIg. 6: Georg Baselitz ‘Wer Alles? Was Alles?’, 2016 – oil on canvas. Photo taken during my visit – collage effect? taped and painted thick and removal of tape? Exploration of edges, hard, blurred, leaking. Drawn lines in paint to add spatial organization.

A short video (german language) that gives an overview of the exhibition is available at:  http://www.dw.com/de/georg-baselitz-wird-80/av-42229330

In a small room a short video interview with Baselitz was shown and one could get a glimpse in his studio with very clean white walls. I was wondering how he is doing that , as my studio corner is quite a mess , especially when I am working. Does he possibly paint on the floor? From above video, Baselitz acknowledged that with his age he can’t reach all areas of a large canvas at the wall, therefor he laid them down onto the floor and ‘crawls’ over it.

I searched and found this picture (Fig. 7) with the artist in action (or perhaps staged action, impressive air blower collection to the right). It resonates somehow with how I work, just that I have far less space available.

Georg Baselitz in his studio, 2013. At: http://www.dw.com/de/der-die-kunstszene-auf-den-kopf-stellte-georg-baselitz-wird-80/a-42109628#

Fig. 7: Georg Baselitz in his studio, 2013. At: http://www.dw.com/de/der-die-kunstszene-auf-den-kopf-stellte-georg-baselitz-wird-80/a-42109628# –  working horizontal, not only to reach easier all areas, but also providing different perspective  – a flatbed approach? 



It was great to visit an exhibition with a fellow student. And I thank Sibylle for very fruitful discussions around some works, the experience of the exhibition, and to talk through matters of our coursework. We shared ideas, questions and references. Absolutely an exciting day. 

The discussion with the museum guards made me aware of how little information related to the exhibitions are shared with them as they couldn’t really answer our questions. The museum is private ownership and at times it reminded me more of a business profit corporation then a place to share and educate. And then I felt quite alone , thus it was wonderful to have somebody to talk through those topics.

To see Kiefer’s painting in front of me excited me to do more experiments on breaking of paint, a sense of decay, but also a sense of opening up close surfaces. Something to work around shellac, emulsion and paint.

The newer works of Baselitz kept me inspired to explore more edges, sharp versus blurred or ‘leaking’ edges that could add to a different sense of visual depth and space as well as atmosphere. The layering of a paint-mist, what adds a translucent layer of concealing but not really, also turned to form into a sense of glow as if there is light emiitted from inside. What reminded me of the photography works of Rotation 1-20, 2015 by Sylvia Hostettler (b. 1965) during my previous museum visit of Berne Cantonale.



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  • Anonymous
    Mar 3,2018 at 7:04 PM

    Lucky you seeing an Anselm Kiefer in real life. I was very inspired by his work when I did my big painting at the end of Drawing 1.

    Yes, Sibylle is a great companion on an art visit. It is so nice to meet another OCA student in person.

    • Stefan
      Mar 3,2018 at 7:19 PM

      Is is you, Gwenyth? Assumption. I can’t see who is writing this. Please add your name.

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