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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Art as Tragicomedy: Martin Kippenberger and the End of the Avant-Garde
by Figner, Susanne, Ph.D., New York University, 2020, 313; 28027156
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the use of performance in the work of German artist Martin Kippenberger. All his activities, from noodle-eating, dancing, singing, and giving interviews to making paintings, sculptures, and installations, were shaped by theater and acting. This approach involved taking on existing roles and restaging them with an emphasis on physical comedy. It was situated in the genre of tragicomedy, which puts the failed body at center stage to reflect on politics, art, and life. Working within a tragicomic lineage, Kippenberger was able to integrate left-out traditions of theater and cinema into art history, but also to make artworks that themselves became actors ruminating on the current state of art—meta-works joking about their endgame situation in the 1980s.

Kippenberger and his friends took a stance of solidarity with an avant-garde and a neo-avant-garde that had both been pronounced dead. As Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Peter Bürger, and other theorists had stated, the project of the avant-garde failed because its radical potential had been absorbed by its repetition through the neo-avant-garde. Kippenberger explored these theorists’ attitudes toward the avant-garde. Making repetition his main theme, he strategically positioned himself not at a forefront but as the leader of an “arrière-avant-garde,” thereby undermining their conclusion. He focused on regression instead of progress, and on repetition instead of innovation. Replaying avant-gardist positions with the assistance of physical comedy was a way to continue an avant-garde from below and behind, failure and ridiculousness already built into it.

Kippenberger embodied the figure of the fool in the sense of Mikhail Bakhtin, combining his personal failures with the failure of the avant-garde. Embedded into this carnivalesque role-play was the petit-bourgeois mentality which was part of his German identity. Kippenberger thus layered the petit-bourgeois state of Germany with the “arrière” condition of the avant-garde as diagnosed by leading academics, offering a witty play that precisely analyzed autobiographical, historical, and theoretical elements. Foolish playacting was used to theorize without theory.

Through four chapters, the dissertation examines Kippenberger’s performance in relation to the following themes: the focus on his belly and physical malfunctions in order to embody Bakhtin’s carnivalesque fool; the position of an arrière-avant-garde, which involved bringing the avant-garde into the social location and mentality of the petit-bourgeois; the exploration of Joseph Beuys’ and Marcel Duchamp’s legacies, through which Kippenberger placed himself both in and outside the market; and the extension of the readymade by bringing it into the context of role-play and cinema.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Crow, Thomas
Commitee: Slifkin, Robert, Lubar, Robert, Marconi, Clemente, Thomas, Thelma
School: New York University
Department: Institute of Fine Arts
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 82/5(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art history, Art Criticism, Fine arts, European Studies, Rhetoric, Creative writing, Performing Arts, Theater
Keywords: 1980s, Avant-garde, Germany, Martin Kippenberger, Painting, Physical comedy, Art installations, Tragicomic lineage , Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Peter Bürger, Mikhail Bakhtin
Publication Number: 28027156
ISBN: 9798691231766
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