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A painter re-makes himself

The complex world of Georg Baselitz, opened up in Vienna

Olivia Weinberg | November/December 2013

Georg Baselitz is not for everyone. His early work stinks of brutality and decay; his self-portrait "The Big Night Down the Drain", 1962, is worse. Showing a short, fleshy masturbating figure, with an evil vacant stare, it was soon confiscated by the East German authorities. But don't let that put you off.

Born Hans-Georg Kern in 1938, in Deutschbaselitz, Saxony, he changed his name in 1961 to honour or humour his tiny home town. He studied at the East Berlin Academy of Art but was soon expelled. He didn't just break the rules, he made his own. Full of jarring colours, weird groupings and sombre motifs, his work is neither beautiful nor charming, but it has humour and real quality.

He is best known for his upside-down paintings (from 1969). To look at one is like reading backwards. You become more conscious, sharply aware of every brush-stroke. You notice things you might have missed as the style becomes more important than the subject. Logic's loss is freedom's gain.

In 2005, Baselitz revisited his early work, playing with it, tweaking the colours, adding some things and removing others: a dangerous game for an artist. The "Remix" paintings are bigger and more vibrant than their sinister siblings. "B. for Larry (Remix)" has a spontaneity that the stolid original lacks. It could be by a different artist, but each pair sits together, pushing the possibilities of painting. The Albertina has two parallel exhibitions, one a retrospective, the other a glimpse into his Renaissance woodcuts; both let us into a complex world. ~ Olivia Weinberg

Georg Baselitz to Feb 23rd; In Colour! Chiaroscuro Woodcuts of the Renaissance, from the collection of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina Nov 29th to Feb 16th; both at the Albertina, Vienna

 

EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War (Somerset House, London, to Jan 26th). Spencer's wartime paintings are some of his best. Fascinated by life behind the scenes (laundry, cooking, cleaning), they offer quiet reassurance.

Tracy Emin: Angel Without You (MOCA, North Miami, Dec 4th to Mar 9th). Hard to believe that this is Emin's first solo show in America. Unusually, it focuses on her neons. Controversial, enigmatic and self-absorbed on the surface, but strangely endearing if you look deeper.

Turner and the Sea (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Nov 22nd to Apr 21st). Turner was a churner-outer, but his seascapes are mesmerising. Pensive, frightening and graceful all at once, they have a unique ability to capture the light and movement of water.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul, new wing). A monster of a development, with an impressive line-up that blends the new with the old.

America Latina 1960-2013 (Fondation Cartier, Paris, Nov 19th to Apr 6th). Say what you like about political unrest, it's a great source of inspiration. Here, 70 artists from more than ten countries capture modern Latin American history in hundreds of photographs that will make you ooh and ah.

Matt Calderwood, Alison Turnbull (De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, to Feb 23rd). A striking Grade I listed building on the Sussex coast, and two rising stars. Turnbull makes graphic, architectural paintings; Calderwood brings a series of sculptures that have been left on the roof to rot. Intrigued?

The Creative Process in Modern Japanese Printmaking (MFA, Boston, Dec 21st to Aug 17th). An intricate art form that takes years of patience is explained—with a rare chance to see all six prints from Hiroshi's "Sailboats", 1926. ~ OW

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