Georg Baselitz at Gagosian Gallery

Installation of George Baselitz’s sculptures at Gagosian Gallery

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There’s one thing you can say about Georg Baselitz’s recent sculptures, on display at the Chelsea branch of Gagosian Gallery: They’re right side up.

Mr. Baselitz, you may remember, achieved notoriety during the Neo-Expressionist craze of the 1980’s for scrabbled and hasty paintings of figures—upside-down figures. I’ve never quite fathomed the rationale for their being upside-down. You think maybe Mr. Baselitz wanted to convey the impression of a world gone topsy-turvy? Or perhaps he was making a grand statement about the thin line dividing representation and abstraction. If an image is upside-down, or so the reasoning goes, you’d have to look at it in purely formal terms, right? Either way, it was a shameless and schlocky gimmick—a marketing ploy intended to draw attention away from the fact that Mr. Baselitz doesn’t paint very well.

He doesn’t sculpt very well, either. Why he chooses to sculpt is a question that is unanswered by the six totemic characters milling about Larry Gagosian’s huge main gallery. Using a chain saw on wood, Mr. Baselitz carves what could best be described as angst-ridden Tiki Gods. A mother and child, a bare-chested tourist, a woman holding a bag of kitchen utensils—each piece is rough and chunky, punctuated with horizontal incisions and slathered with pink, blue and black paint. The ghost of the American painter Philip Guston, a considerable influence on Mr. Baselitz’s paintings, haunts the sculptures; it’s there to see in the palette, the lumpish forms and huge, goofy feet.

Would that Guston’s spirit inhabited the things—then they’d have a reason for being. As it is, Mr. Baselitz’s foray into sculpture is the kind of arrogant indulgence only a major rep and an unlimited budget can allow. There are cowboy artists who wield a defter chain saw; better Mr. Gagosian should showcase their folksy efforts than trot out the latest dreck from this overbearing has-been.

(c) 2004 Mario Naves

Originally published in the October 10, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.

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