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Martin Kippenberger and the Grässlin family collection

Martin Kippenberger, Familie Hunger, 1985, Collection Grässlin, St. Georgen

This year, Martin Kippenberger would have turned fifty. His work and the myth surrounding his person are currently attracting considerable attention among younger visitors to the various exhibitions currently on show. While the title of the international exhibition on painting in Frankfurt's Schirn, "Lieber Maler, male mir" – Radikaler Realismus nach Picabia ("Dear Painter, paint me" – Radical Realism Following Picabia) was borrowed from a group of Kippenberger's works, his influence on subsequent generations of artists is also clearly palpable in other current shows as well, such as deutschemalereizweitausenddrei in Frankfurt's Kunstverein or Painting Pictures in the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. In celebration of his birthday, Karlsruhe's Museum für Neue Kunst is paying tribute to Kippenberger with the first large posthumous exhibition of the artist's works, Das 2. Sein; in addition, the Kunstverein Braunschweig will be presenting the very first comprehensive view of the multiples. And, starting on April 16, Kippenberger's drawings will be introduced in the Kunsthalle Tübingen, a large number of which are part of the collection of the Deutsche Bank.

Moreover, key works have also been loaned to all the exhibitions cited above by a private collection whose history is not only deeply marked by a commitment to Kippenberger's work, but also by a personal relationship to the artist himself: more than perhaps any other German collection of contemporary art, the Grässlin family collection stands out through its special ties to the artists they collect, their ideas, and their visions.

After the industrialist Dieter Grässlin, who died in 1976, laid the cornerstone for the collection together with his wife Anna in the late sixties in St. George, Baden, with important works of "Informal Painting" and Southern German Constructivism, their children Thomas, Sabine, Bärbel, and Karola began expanding it in the early eighties

together with their mother to include a new part: in 1999, Vom Eindruck zum Ausdruck (From Impression to Expression), a comprehensive exhibition in Hamburg's Deichtorhallen, was dedicated to this more recent chapter in collecting history.

Stadthof, Unterkirchnach 1993, Martin Kippenberger´s 40th birthday
Photo: Thomas Berger, St. Georgen

The title of the Hamburg show, borrowed from a 1981 painting by Kippenberger, also refers to the period of time during which the Grässlin family became actively engaged in supporting young art from the eighties: artists such as Isa Genzken, Reinhard Mucha, or Günther Förg, and later Albert Oehlen and Markus Oehlen, Werner Büttner, and Martin Kippenberger were acquired for the collection – with paintings and installations whose conceptual approach was communicated with brittle irony.

The individual family members – together with their divergent positions – have remained true to their original strategy to amass a collection of non-conformist art that reflects a larger social and political context. Karola Grässlin, who runs Braunschweig's Kunstverein, was responsible for collecting artists early on who today count among the prominent German representatives of the younger generation: Kai Althoff, Cosima von Bonin, Michael Krebber, and Heimo Zobernig.

Until he died in 1997, Martin Kippenberger remained closely tied to the family, and thus to Bärbel Grässlin, who presented his work in her Frankfurt gallery from the mid-eighties on in numerous one-person exhibitions. Only recently, his White Paintings from 1991 were on show there. An interview with Bärbel Grässlin on the current exhibitions and the "Kippenberger Phenomenon."

Selected reading:

Exhibition catalogue Martin Kippenberger - Das 2.Sein, DuMont, Köln 2003.