Painting Machines: Martin Kippenberger, Michael Krebber, Oswald Wiener and the Cybernetics of Living Media (2020)
This dissertation examines post-conceptual painting in 1980s and early 1990s Cologne. It explores how—building on conceptual art’s reconfiguration of the artwork as a proposition that can be transmitted linguistically—artistic production was dispersed in the social milieu. This decentered and modularized artistic production took different forms: from delegation and formal or informal collaborations to the transmission of rumors.
Focusing on two complementary case studies of the so-called “return to painting” after conceptual art ca. 1980, I argue that the work of Martin Kippenberger and Michael Krebber manifests a turn not so much to the traditional medium of paint on canvas, but to artists’ bodies as living media.
A key example of the dispersal of artistic production into a social milieu is Kippenberger’s reconfiguration of artistic practice as a provision of “services” and of the artist as a corporation called Kippenbergers Büro (Kippenberger’s office)—i.e., as a system of artistic operations that can be outsourced to other artists. No less paradigmatic is Krebber’s becoming famous by not producing any work. Krebber’s failure to produce an oeuvre became a rumor that proved highly effective at reproducing itself.
I argue that Oswald Wiener’s cybernetic aesthetics, and especially his writings on dandyism from 1978-1982, offer an important point of reference that elucidates what is at stake in Kippenberger’s and Krebber’s work. Tracing both historical and theoretical connections to Wiener’s work, this dissertation examines the autonomization of the artistic process marked both by the corporation Kippenberger and by the rumor that is
Krebber. It inquires how the artistic processes affect and connect artists’ bodies functioning as their media, and how these processes construct a social milieu. I place particular emphasis on the ways in which the artists mapped gender relations onto functional relations, as well as on how—and what kind of—relations between men were afforded by the prevalent exclusion of women.