Action Sculpting . Για τον Markus Luperz
Το κείμενο μου που μόλις δημοσιεύτηκε στο βιβλίο -κατάλογο του Πάρκου Γλυπτικής του Βούπερταλ για τον Markus Luperz. Here is in English my text for the book-katalogue in sculpture park in Wuppertal concerning the sculptures of Markus Luperz .
Translated from the Greek by Vanessa Wildenstein
The Language of Object-Sculptures
From the moment I was first confronted with Markus Lüpertz’s sculptures, in the 80’s, I was overwhelmed by a series of thoughts and reflections. The same thing happened again when I lay eyes on the sculptures exhibited at the Sculpture Park in Wuppertal. What are these thoughts? I shall set them out below.
Lüpertz’s relationship with matter and materials is reminiscent of the deep bond that exists between man and matter. It is a “maternal” bond, as the term’s etymology indicates: from the Latin “mater”, which comes from the Greek “μήτηρ” (mítir) meaning “mother”. Consequently, it is a relationship depending on a need for survival, a bond that determines a person’s daily existence and sociability. Man emerges from matter, to it he runs for cover, from it he learns the secrets of his future progress, but he also uses it as a base and starting point to build his social culture and his artistic language.
With his sculpture, Markus Lüpertz urges us to understand that, from matter and that special bond between man and matter, also came the need to create objects, which would support his desire to adapt and his amicable/harmonious co-existence with his environment and Nature. Through matter, man better learns about himself, and thus he makes objects in his image and likeness. Objects in general, and more particularly Lüpertz’s sculptures, are the embodiment of human needs, desires and imagination. They represent the practical side of a life marked by perpetual inventiveness and innovation.
The object-sculptures are a basic element of his artistic language: their use and semiotics form part of a language’s expression. From this magical and ceremonial significance to their transformation into an aesthetic proposal, object-sculptures incarnate the history of civilization through time. And Lüpertz’s sculptures carry time within them and upon them, not as a form of external record or illustration of events, but rather as internal and external experience of mythology, history of art and culture, and also the present as an everyday, social experience.
Ever since classical times, sculpture as a plastic, moldable language leaned heavily on that very philosophy. From the verb “γλείφω” (gleífo), which means to subtract matter, according to Aristotle, came the term “γλυπτικί” (glyptikí) or sculpture. The Sculptor subtracts matter, and, through this subtractive act, shapes appear. It is the process of creation as “Mimesis”, not as copy, since the artist learns by mimicking nature, while not copying it, as once again the Stagerite Philosopher tells us. Through the sculptural process and experience, the artist learns about himself, recognizes himself again, emerges perpetually as the reality of forms. And this is clear in Markus Lüpertz’s work and sculptures.
Sculpture, for him, is the factual proof of the perpetual emergence of the sculptor through the sculptural act. It is his effort to keep alive his individual and grounded relationship with matter. It is not, and let me be clear on that, a copy of external images of any given reality. It is, instead, a process of rebirth of his self through art. It is an attempt to revive the archetypal bond between man and matter. And such an attempt characterized the Classical man, but also Renaissance ideals, Enlightenment and Romanticism. Here, of course, let us consider the term “Romanticism” more as an absolute dedication to the creation of art, and less as excess leading to self-destruction. Let us see it as an energetic melancholy that yields creation and functions neither negatively nor passively.
Philosophizing with a Hammer
It was not until Nietzsche and his “Philosophy of the hammer” that Art as reflection and acknowledgement of idols, as the copy of an external reality, began to crumble, giving way to the demolition of the concept of copying objects as images. Nietzsche’s “hammer” and the new ideals/ideologies spearheaded by the likes of Picasso, the Cubists, the Expressionists, and the Fauvists, began to strike at representation and to seek the rebirth of Art, not as end image, but as a continual motion, as internal movement that achieves the return in power toward materials, which can come together in a composition.
This “critical” position attacked figurative art as imitation and tore it apart. To the point, in fact, that it made it disappear, thus opening the path to abstraction. This was also the path taken by sculpture, and by Markus Lüpertz. The latter gravitated toward fertile, creative subtraction. Toward the logic that only what is necessary to plastic expression must remain in the sculpture. From natural materials to synthetic ones, he went toward a selective combination of the two.
In this battle of constant “criticism” against figurative imitation, the Avant-garde were the initial trailblazers. The Avant-garde, in its frenetic path, destroyed everything. The most extreme of them would eventually reach the point where they proclaimed “the end of art” as a body-object/object and declare that art was only an idea or concept. Installations and performances aspired to replace sculpture by using the term “progress”, a situation that reigned supreme throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
In the 80’s, a new generation of artists from different countries opposed themselves to the aforementioned ideological battle that dreamt of the end of art as a plastic, tangible body, as posited by Marcel Duchamp, its leading proponent. One of the protagonists of this new generation that did not want to forget the historical past and the linguistic identity of art was Markus Lüpertz. Along with other important artists, including A. R. Penck, Georg Baselitz, Jörg Immendorff, and others, Italians, Americans, etc., he reacted against the excess of the Avant-garde, against the intangibility of art it set forth, and, instead, contributed greatly to the return of a tangible, somatized art.
The “Somatized” Conscience of Art
It is not nostalgia on the part of Markus Lüpertz. Nor is his purpose to bring back an idolizing past. No. It is the consciousness of freedom of an artist who discovers, toward the end of the twentieth century, that there is a rich variety of materials in the history of art and civilization, and decides to use it in his work. Realizing the extent of his freedom, the artist is selective: he takes whatever he wants (iconography, color, material, details, atmosphere) from the historical past (selectively rather than chronologically), and he mixes it with more contemporary visual experiences, following only his liberated and exonerated, subjectively creative criteria, devoid of the Avant-garde’s limitations. Thus is born a new, visual proposal where everything, even the most paradoxical and incongruous elements, can co-exit productively within the framework of one visual reality.
Markus Lüpertz’s tangible, somatized sculpture brings back all that was forgotten or forbidden. It brings back the same sculptural notion of “πλάθειν” (pláthein, from the Greek verb, “πλάσσω” (plásso), which means molding with one’s hands). Materials, colors, drawings, historical and cultural heritage, consciousness of expression, poetry, music, mythology, whatever was related to the history of the sculptural act, came back in Lüpertz’s tangible, somatized sculptures. Past and present, subjective and objective, personal and collective, historical and mythological, fantastic and real, all come together in the German artist’s sculpture and give the sense of a fertile blend of classical and contemporary, traditional and new, known and innovative.
One has only to see his sculptures, Kopf der Daphne, Mozart, Jason, Beethoven, Achilles, Odysseus, Hector, Fragonard, Judith, David-Tanzer, to ascertain the above observations. Colors, materials, shapes, gestures, dreams, distortions, irony, history come together creatively in the context of the subjective cosmogenic behavior of the artist, creating a new plastic sculptural identity where tradition and innovation co-exist in the tangible, somatized condition of his sculptures. The freedom of Markus Lüpertz’s highly selective sculptural vocabulary, is a freedom that is fully exonerated from the prohibitions set forth by the modern Avant-garde. And what’s more, in certain situations, he doesn’t hesitate to incorporate some of its achievements in his own sculptural act, if need be or for effect. This deep need for a new freedom transpierces the unstoppable Action Sculpting, from end to end.
In the case of Markus Lüpertz, everything seems to originate from something real. A photograph, a sculptural form, a historical image, a snapshot from everyday life: anything real can be a trigger for him. While working on it, he instinctively changes it. His sculpture is not based on concepts or predefined external ideas, but on feelings. The “real” does not play the role of a specific motif, which in fact becomes action sculpting’s end in itself. To the contrary, it becomes something like a vehicle in the creation of his works. Any sign/trace of everyday life can be combined with a natural, cultural, historical or mythological element, and together can enter into the composition of his sculptures. The “real” is the starting block, the trigger for Markus Lüpertz’s work. It becomes the material of his action sculpting, which deforms it creatively, makes it fertile by turning it into something meta-historical, into something new, innovative, that contains the fundamental roots of the old and the traditional. It is a creative reversal, where personal creation never takes on a mechanical dimension, never becomes a technical obsession or somatized style. And this because action sculpting itself, as a living mode of action, open, sensitive and perceptive to life, never shuts itself into obsessive repetition. Instead, it subverts the exteriority of the “real” and penetrates its interiority in such a way that the viewer cannot distinguish the inside from the outside. Markus Lüpertz’s sculptures are at once in and out; they are a social body in which existential instinct and desire co-exist. The relationship between action sculpting and nature, art history and sculptural identity, is so solid that it gives birth to works constantly re-molding themselves.
If you do not enter the body, the heart and the soul of colors and materials, if you do not listen to the voice of History and the clattering of its steps, if you don’t know what hides behind the names and illuminations of shapes, then you will never feel that each color and material has its own movement and life, has power and energy, has a voice and wants to express itself. This is what Markus Lüpertz seems to tell us with his sculptures. And it cannot be achieved without the will to try. He wants to bring to life the motion of matter, so that his sculptural act confutes itself over and over, overcomes the known limits, broadens without ever losing its identity as a plastic behavior, as a plastic condition/stance.
When we look at an object, we speak of it without usually including its shadow. If now we consider only the shadow, if our gaze stays there, then we will perceive another dimension to the object. Perhaps the shadow is the essential life of the object, the movement of its life.
Consequently, Markus Lüpertz seems to tell us that the true image of the artwork is born from the eye. It is our eye that creates the image, according to Plato. Through the eye’s movement, the image is born. By way of this shift, the work is created. When one unites the shadow of the “real” with the body of the sculpture, the birth of a work in constant motion can be achieved. This is what the viewer undergoes: the creative optical experience. Thus, this same viewer can admire a series of sculptures that, from their plastic mobility (and not from their conceptual-semantic shapes), are able to provoke constant surprise.
Lüpertz’s sculptures are permeated by the incongruous harmony, the incongruous beauty of the eye’s position. The world of objects comes forth and is scanned by our eyes. Nothing dies, even if, at some point, it vanishes from sight. But even when such a thing occurrs, it is because we, ourselves, have lost the ability to see. It means that our imagination did not allow our eye to see it. That is the secret of art and life, Lüpertz’s sculptures seem to tell us. That is the way in which we can confront his works: when there is something we do not see, it does not disappear, it is not dead, it has not been destroyed. Let us find again our ability to see it. Let us find again our ability to rediscover. To rediscover the beauty of life and art, even through sorrow. By learning from his sculptures.
Professor of Philosophy of Art in Paris (Sorbonne and IESA), director of the “Europe” program at IESA, poet, visual artist