Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015

Serpentine South Gallery (London), Oct-23/Jan-24

Best known for his paintings, German artist Georg Baselitz (born in 1938) presents a selection of ten powerful sculptures shown alongside a series of drawings at the Serpentine South Gallery until January 2024. The solo show centres around Baselitz’s sculptural practice and explores the artist’s longstanding relationship with the human figure and its intricacies. Rather than serving as preliminary sketches or final records, the set of drawings in pencil, ink and pen mediates the creative process, operating as an extension of the sculptural works. These two-dimensional works offer some respite, telling a more intimate narrative amid the splendour of the wooden maquettes originally created for bronze sculptures.

View of the exhibition © Georg Baselitz 2023. Photo: Hugo Glendinning 2023.

The large-scale, totemic wooden sculptures are intrinsically raw. The body shapes carved from the wood give a clear hint of their human nature, though the artist’s interest in confronting the rules of perception opens up multiple readings of his work. Baselitz’s recurring method of painting images upside down is rehearsed through Zero Ende (Zero End) (2013) and Zero Mobil (Zero Mobile) (2013-2014), two long logs of wood wrapped in several rings with a human skull at each end. While these pieces may disorient and perplex the viewer, such distinct representation of a bone structure underlines the works’ neo-expressionist force.

 

Undoubtedly, the most compelling part of the exhibition is the central gallery, which features a selection of four colossal human-like sculptures. In Sing Sang Zero (2011), the artist alludes to the autobiographical aspect of his oeuvre, portraying himself together with his wife, Elke. Yellow Song (2013), on the other hand, replicates the ribcage pattern that surrounds the hunk of wood, and its yellow motif relates to Marokkaner (Moroccan) (2012), another yellow-painted wooden sculpture that opens the show. Baselitz’s choice of colours, as he puts it, is ‘not arbitrary’, and it conveys both symbolic meaning and visual quality. Growing up in the post-war context of Germany, Baselitz challenged the prevailing aesthetic traditions of the time by using colour as a means to express his artistic freedom. It is fascinating to see his established painterly practice manifested in these monumental sculptures.

View of the exhibition © Georg Baselitz 2023. Photo: Hugo Glendinning 2023.

The only piece displayed outside the gallery is the bronze sculpture Zero Dom (Zero Dome) (2015-2021). This work tests the boundaries of the representational, shifting the focus to materiality. Five wood planks stand next to each other creating a form that can be perceived as a tree or a group of long legs, but they gradually lean towards complete abstraction.

View of the exhibition © Georg Baselitz 2023. Photo: Hugo Glendinning 2023.

This is the artist’s first solo show at the Serpentine and emphasises its vast history of exhibitions showcasing renowned sculptors such as Henry Moore, whose large bronze sculptures were exhibited in 1978, and Louise Bourgeois’s first-ever solo exhibition in the UK in 1985, which marked a turning point in her career. Baselitz’s exhibition invites visitors to embark on a journey through the artist’s multifaceted production or experience the organic harmony between the wooden structures, the natural lighting of the exhibition space, and the vibrant greenery of Kensington Gardens.

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