Image: Georg Baselitz’s Forest of Forms at Serpentine Galleries
Georg Baselitz, Louise Fuller (2013). © Georg Baselitz 2023. Courtesy Serpentine Galleries, London. Photo: Jochen Littkemann.
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Georg Baselitz’s Forest of Forms at Serpentine Galleries

5 October 2023


In a career spanning more than six decades, Georg Baselitz has come to be regarded as a pioneer of post-war art.

Coinciding with the frenzy of Frieze London, the German artist is showing at Serpentine Galleries with the exhibition Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011–2015 (5 October 2023–7 January 2024), his first solo show with the London institution.

Baselitz—born Hans-Georg Kern—was brought up in East Germany under the Communist regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Following his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in West Berlin, he became known for expressionistic paintings that were often inverted, rendering his subjects upside down.

Baselitz began painting and exhibiting work upside down as a means to challenge viewers. Instead of devising a subject that would shock, he portrayed recognisable subjects such as figures or landscapes and upturned our perception of them. What was once a familiar scene, became an abnormal vision that disturbs and provokes.

By upending and obscuring the representational, Baselitz altered public viewing habits and urged his audience to think differently and ask questions that challenged them. This inversion singled out Baselitz from his contemporaries, and he continued to explore it in different mediums including print and sculpture.

The exhibition, displayed in the galleries of Serpentine South and outdoors in the Royal Parks, unites Baselitz's works in three-dimensions and two-dimensions. The artist invites us to walk through his forest of forms and observe his different processes from the studio to gallery.

Artworks on view include huge timber maquettes, various Indian-ink-on-paper drawings, and the nine-metre-tall bronze sculpture Zero Dom (Zero Dome) (2015–2021), which has never been shown in the U.K. before.

For Zero Dom (Zero Dome), Baselitz used a chainsaw and chisel to hack away at the surface of a tree trunk to create crooked wood planks. Using five of the textured battens as moulds, Baselitz cast them in patinated bronze and leant them upon one another to create a tipi-like monument.

Other works on view include his wooden sculptures of bodies and forms that are both clunky and colossal.

In Louise Fuller (2013), Baselitz depicts a stick figure whose hips balance four jagged rings that recall the shape of a human ribcage. The motif of rings reappears in several other works on view, including Zero Mobil (Zero Mobile) (2013–2014) where they are stacked along a hunk of wood shaped like a bone with a skull protruding from one end.

Whether suspended by wire or standing in a circle surrounding the space, Baselitz's wooden giants dwarf us. Their looming stance suggests that we are being watched over while we survey the exhibition.

The influence Baselitz's practice has had on generations of artists is tremendous. In a catalogue commissioned for the show, artists including Alvaro Barrington, Huma Bhabha, Rashid Johnson, Erwin Wurm, and Rose Wylie offer musings on how they connect to Baselitz's work in their own practices.

In an open letter to Baselitz, which is featured in the show's catalogue, British artist Tracey Emin said 'Your art is unapologetic... In the 1990s when it felt to me that the emotional doors of art were closed, you were there forcefully trying to smash them open... You kept the gateways open for artists like me.'

By opening up a dialogue with contemporary artists and introducing never-before-seen works, the exhibition lays bare the resonance of Baselitz's oeuvre, while also giving insight into his artistic process.

Baselitz, who is represented by Gagosian, Thaddaeus Ropac, White Cube, and Cristea Roberts Gallery, is not only one of Germany's most significant contemporary artists but one of the most sought after at auction.

In 2022, five of his works sold for a total of around U.S. $24 million at the Sotheby's Spring Auction in New York, including the sculpture Women of Dresden – Visit from Prague (1990), which fetched $11.2 million.

His painting Raum licht wiln echt mehr (Rial blef well) (2013) goes up for sale on 12 October 2023 at the Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale auction in London with a pre-sale estimate of £300,000 to £500,000 (U.S. $365,000–608,000).

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