Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)
Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)

Untitled (Froschei)

Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)
Untitled (Froschei)
initialed and dated 'M.K. 96' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
35½ x 29 5/8 in. (90 x 75 cm.)
Painted in 1996. The English translation of Froschei is "Frog Egg."
Gisela Capitain, Cologne
Private collection, Germany
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
A. Taschen, ed., Kippenberger, Cologne, 2003, p. 205, no. 201 (illustrated).
Mönchengladbach, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Martin Kippenberger, Der Eiermann und seine Ausleger, 1997, p. 110 (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art and New York, Museum of Modern Art, Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective, September 2008-May 2009, p. 100 (illustrated).


After a pop culture infused visit to Los Angeles in the late 1980's, Martin Kippenberger chose Fred the Frog as his doppelganger and famously nailed him to a cross. This irreverent action earned condemnation from the Vatican and burnished his reputation as one of the "bad boys" of German art.

At the end of his life, we have a very different Fred the Frog/Martin Kippenberger. Here the bravado, defiance and sense of persecution that marks the earlier self-portrait gives way to a frightened version, one who knows his time is running out. The candle on his head burns slowly down between fearful fish eyes. Indeed, a year later, the artist would be dead from liver cancer, the final straw after a lifetime of destructive indulgence.

Although biography is an important aspect of Kippenberger's work, it would be a mistake to read it exclusively in those terms. In place of a body, this frog has an egg, a trope the artist came to late in his life and which would be the subject of the last show he mounted during his lifetime. The idea of the egg is meant to undermine sincerity, like an egg on his face/art. It relates to German farming and Warhol's banana, to an intense creative life-force contained in a delicate shell, but ultimately it is a foil to the trap of taking things too seriously.

That said, the metaphor of the frog is a powerful one. Frogs are from childhood stories (Fred the Frog, Kermit the Frog) as well as of the apocalypse, when frogs are said to rain from the skies. Thin skinned, frogs are extremely sensitive to their surroundings. Every incremental change in climate or environment seems to land at least one or two more types of frogs on the endangered species list. Kippenberger once said, with self-aware irony, in response to Beuys's dictum that every human being is an artist: "Every artist is a human being."

Frogs are green, the color of sickness and addiction and of envy. One of Kippenberger's sisters said: "He was an addict. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, to love, cigarettes, and recognition" (S. Kippenberger, Martin Kippenberger, exh. cat. Tate, London, UK, 2006, p. 59). On the other hand, frogs can be cute, at least in fiction. Like many addicts (think Dudley Moore in Arthur), Kippenberger could be adorable, evidenced by his nickname, "Kippy". The frog here embodies both aspects: a childlike playfulness and an adult reckoning with a lifetime of very adult self-abuse.

Somewhere between these very provocative examinations of two of the holy cows of art history is this little frog painting. Its subject has distended eyes, an egg for a body, and a candle on his head that could also double for a stick of dynamite. It is pathetic yet, nonetheless, it hits with a brutal, albeit sideways honesty. Ultimately, that could be Martin Kippenberger's greatest legacy.