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A Problematic Martin Kippenberger in Perspective

Martin Kippenberger Disco Bombs, (detail) 1989. Screenprint on paper. 84 x 59cm. © Kippenberger Estate.

On the occasion of German artist Martin Kippenberger’s show The Problem Perspective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York we would like to investigate a work not included in the show: Kippenberger’s large-format photographic installation Tankstelle Martin Bormann (Martin Bormann Gas station).

For those not familiar with this piece here follows a brief history: In 1986 Kippenberger took a trip to Brazil (‘The Magical Misery Tour’) during which he allegedly purchased, renamed and equipped with a phone line a disused gas station on a secluded Brazilian beach. The only evidence of this is an installation comprised of black and white photography:

Martin Kippenberger, Tankstelle Martin Borman, 1986. © Kippenberger Estate.

The common assumption here is that Kippenberger was pretending that the gas station acted as the vocational and residential refuge of Martin Ludwig Bormann, the infamous Nazi war criminal, who used the location in an effort to confuse his true identity whilst on the run from persecution pertaining to his position as private secretary to Adolf Hitler within the Third Reich. There is compelling evidence that Bormann died in the closing days of WWII, but like Lord Luchan his fate has since been a source of mythic speculation – unconfirmed sightings of Bormann were reported globally for two decades after the war (particularly in Europe, Paraguay, and elsewhere in South America) and rumors that he underwent plastic surgery whist in a fugitive state are many.

Martin Bormann.

Similarly, in attempting to research the details pertaining to Kippenberger’s gas station the most pertinent recurrent question was: did this project even exist in its purported form or was it simply an extreme example of artist self-mythologization? Kippenberger’s work often featured a variety of media, including but not limited to painted, designed, non-materialized, and make-believe architecture. The fact Kippenberger, in addition to altering the buildings façade, claimed to have purchased it and installed a phone line lends the work an undeniably fictitious air. Perhaps this was just another instance of the artist being gloriously antagonistic.

Over view at MoMA of The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika’ 1994 © Kippenberger Estate.

In regard to antagonism, Kippenberger had flouted the respectful silence concerning Germany’s recent history two years prior to Tankstelle Martin Borman (1986) with paintings titled H.H.I.F. – Heil Hitler You Fetishist (1984) and Ich kann beim besten Willen kein Hakenkreuz entdecken (With the Best Will in the World, I Can’t See a Swastika). Such ironic insensitivities have always allowed for ambiguous interpretations within Kippenberger’s work and at the same time helped viewers to gain valuable insights into the subtleties of Teutonic existence. Kippenberger’s tactless reference could well be taken to be elemental however, in addition to the Nazi factor of the Martin Bormann Gas Station – made all the more shocking due to Kippenberger’s nationality – there is one other scandalous and quintessentially Kippenberger-esq connection to this sordid layer cake.

Cover of Supervixens (1975).

In 1975 the film Supervixens was written, produced, photographed, edited and directed by Legendary softcore film mogul Russ Meyer. It chronicles the misadventures of its protagonist, Clint Ramsey who after being wrongly accused of his wife’s murder by psycho cop Harry Sledge is sexually harassed across America by voluptuous nymphomaniacs after fleeing from his job at Martin Bormann’s Gas Station.

The film’s cult status and what we know of Kippenberger’s interests make it likely that he was aware of Supervixens, if not an avid fan. Considering the various speculative parts to this puzzle and the way in which neither the lure of a hypothetical gas station or a cheap stab at Germany’s history hold their own, we humbly submit that on this occasion, Kippenberger simply took advantage of a purportedly remote location and his home country’s sensitivity to its atrocious recent past to be wonderfully lazy in the execution of a tribute to what ostensibly amounts to nothing more than a titty film.

Martin Kippenberger.

Sadly, Kippenberger died at age 44 on March 7th 1997 in Vienna of liver disease, so the likelihood is that we will never know if our assumptions regarding this piece hold true. Widely heralded as one of the most talented artists of his generation his influence and presence over a decade after his death is a counterpoint to his somewhat obscure working life[.]


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  • Mr. Arrow

    My favorite encounter with Albert Oehlen occurred at MOCA when he was explaining the title of an enormous abstract monstrosity entitled KEVIN. He explained this was Kippenberger and Oehlen’s code name for HITLER when speaking of him in public cafes and bars in Vienna! This holds special meaning for me.

  • BreastMan

    Russ Meyer in fact used character actor Henry Rowland in four of his films to portray Bormann including Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) where Bormann is stabbed to death by a transsexual while dressed in full Nazi regalia; Supervixens (1975) and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) which feature Bormann as a gas station owner and small town Lothario respectively and in UP! (1978) where only his voice is heard coming from a mental institution where he is locked up with a recently castrated Adolf Schwartz aka Hitler. However, Supervixens (1975) is by far the most iconic of these movies and for this reason, as you perhaps correctly suggest, it is likely that it was this film and not the others which were referenced by the artist Martin Kippenberger. Thank you for deepening my interest in these amazing films.

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A Problematic Martin Kippenberger in Perspective