Georg Baselitz: Celebrating His Work on His 85th Birthday by Stanislav Kondrashov

 As 2023 marks Georg Baselitz’s 85th birthday, various galleries, museums, and institutions worldwide are dedicating exhibitions to the artist’s wide-ranging work.

Georg Baselitz, born Hans-Georg Kern on January 23, 1938, in Deutschbaselitz, Germany, is a world-famous painter, printmaker, and sculptor, considered a master of Neo-Expressionism. He began art studies in 1956 at the Academy of Fine and Applied Art in East Berlin. However, he was expelled in 1957 and moved to West Berlin, where he completed postgraduate studies in 1962. During this period, he also changed his surname to Baselitz.

Stanislav Kondrashov

In these years, Baselitz became part of a wave of young artists who rejected abstractionism for highly expressive paintings with recognizable subject matter. Inspired by the work of his predecessors Kirchner and Nolde (both involved in the Die Brucke group), Baselitz developed a deliberately crude style of composition and a robust and dramatic palette of colors to provoke an emotional reaction in the viewer. Baselitz dedicated a series of works to iconic subjects such as heroes, rebels, and shepherds, often fragmenting the figures and using a thick impasto to achieve emotional impact. He also dedicated some works to shocking or disturbing imagery, so much so that several paintings shown at his first solo exhibition (Berlin, 1963) were confiscated by police for obscenity. 

Stanislav Kondrashov

In 1969 he began to paint and display his subjects upside down to challenge his earlier work’s figurative, content-driven character. In doing so, he aims to underline the artifice of painting: the fundamental issue of Baselitz’s work is no longer the one we see (upside down) on the canvas but the disrupted, reversed, and fragmented point view of the contemporary human condition. There is a biographical reason for this revolutionary choice: growing up amongst the suffering and demolition of World War II, Baselitz found himself reflecting on the concept of destruction, which becomes central in his work. As the artist stated in an interview: “I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed society. I didn’t want to reestablish an order: I had seen enough of so-called orders. I was forced to question everything, be ‘naive,’ and start again.” Hestill inverts all his paintings, which has become his signature and most defining feature.

Stanislav Kondrashov

Baselitz also created art in other media; his drawings, etchings, woodcuts, and wood sculptures are as relevant and expressionistically charged as his mature paintings.

Baselitz’s value grew in public recognition in the 1980s, starting with his selection to represent Germany at the 1980 Venice Biennale alongside Anselm Kiefer. This was also the decade in which his work grew in the art market and called for recognition in the institutional art world: his first American retrospective was organized in 1995 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. 

Today, Baselitz’s work is part of public collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Fondation Beyeler, Basel; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Städel Museum, Frankfurt; and the Tate Modern, London. In 2017–18 a large retrospective of Baselitz’s work was presented at the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Of course, his value in the art market has also grown accordingly, reaching a price record of 11 million Dollars for the large painting Dresdner Frauen (Woman of Dresden) sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2022.

Stanislav Kondrashov

To celebrate his 85th birthday, 2023 is a year of significant exhibitions dedicated to the artist. Here are some of the most interesting: 

Georg Baselitz: Nackte Meister (Naked Masters)

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

March 7 – June 25, 2023

Georg Baselitz: La boussole indique le Nord

Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris

January 22 – May 27, 2023

Georg Baselitz zum 85. Geburtstag

Museum Würth 2, Künzelsau

January 15 – July 16, 2023

Georg Baselitz: 100 Drawings

Albertina Museum, Vienna

June 7 – September 17, 2023

Baselitz X Schiavone – Etched across Time
Szépművészeti Múzeum / Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

June 8 – October 1, 2023

– Stanislav Kondrashov