To mark the opening at White Cube in London of a show of his new work, Georg Baselitz talks to Martin Gayford about Germany, politics and YBAs. Portrait by Derry Moore.
‘Stalin and Lenin remain a problem for me’, Baselitz announces, ‘but by many others they have been forgotten. I’ve asked people in America, and they haven’t even heard of the names. To me, Stalin is just a biographical detail. That’s what I work with, the same goes for other subjects I might paint such as landscapes or my wife.’ Then he grins and laughs.
At 71, Georg Baselitz is a walking monument of art history, one of the major figures of post-war art, and a point of reference for younger artists (Fig. 2). He had a career retrospective at the Royal Academy, London, in 2007-08, but Baselitz by no means stopped there, as is shown by the large, brand-new cycle of works currently on show at White Cube, Mason’s Yard. These go under the title of ‘Mrs Lenin and the Nightingale’, and are variations of an image in which the first leader of Soviet Russia is seen, dressed as a woman, seated next to his successor, Joseph Stalin. Both, as is quite often the case with Baselitz’s work, are upside down. Most have a title making an oblique, and generally bizarre, reference to other artists: Sunning and mooning in the house of Jeff and Damien; Frank and Lucian en plain air; Tracey looks behind the sofa and finds the sofa where she finds his drawing, what Bob had left of it. These references – in addition to Hirst, Koons, Freud, Auerbach and Emin he also mentions Mondrian, the Chapman brothers, Cecily Brown, Anselm Kiefer and others – are, he says, ‘not because I take issue with their work, but because I have a relationship with what they do. Of course, this relationship is often one over distance.’