Georg Baselitz, installation view of “Sculptures 2011-2015,” 2023–24. Photo: Hugo Glendinnig 2023, © Georg Baselitz 2023, Courtesy Serpentine 2023

Georg Baselitz



“Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011–2015” (on view through January 7, 2024) features a group of never-before-exhibited sculptures—large-scale timber works originally intended as maquettes for his bronze sculptures—presented with drawings to highlight the relationship between the artist’s two- and three-dimensional practice. Only Zero Dome (2015) has a corresponding cast—a nine-meter-tall bronze (2015/2021) installed in Kensington Gardens outside Serpentine South. Consisting of five battens reminiscent of marching legs, Zero Dome takes the form of a conical, teepee-like structure. The bronze version was made using the latest technology, with a 3D scan of the timber maquette translated into a silicone model at 1:10 scale, resulting in the patinated bronze.

Baselitz, born in 1938 as Hans-Georg Kern, took his name from his birthplace of Deutschbaselitz, a small village in Saxony, eastern Germany. After World War II, he emerged as one of the most influential artists of his generation, becoming a member of the German Neo-Expressionist movement in the 1970s. He famously inverted the human form to avoid narrative or illusionistic connotations; the gravity-defying depictions that resulted draw on the haplessness of the human condition, figures rendered powerless by uncontrollable forces. Baselitz then developed a technique in which large-scale works—as seen at the Serpentine—are carved from a single tree trunk, using power saws, axes, and chisels to create brutally reductive approximations of figures and body parts. The timber, with its roughened surfaces, notches, and indentations, becomes a key feature of each finished piece, lending a tactile, primal quality. In a sense, this way of working pays homage to the first German Expressionists, masters of the woodcut and woodcarving denounced as “degenerate” by the Nazis.

The Serpentine’s central space displays four figural sculptures: Sing Sang Zero (2011), BDM Group (2012), Yellow Song (2012–13), and Louise Fuller (2013). Each work rises over two meters in height, dwarfing the viewer, and, as a group, they portray contrasting body gestures. Sing Sang Zero depicts the artist and his wife; the figures in BDM Group cluster together, arms linked, as if sharing confidences; the single figure of Yellow Song is self-contained, while Louise Fuller, a dancer, seems to move with a playful, gyrating rhythm. Installed together, the figures appear to engage each other, as if in dialogue. This effect intensifies on circumnavigation, as different views and interactions are revealed in an ever-changing choreography of gesture and form.

With their alarming height and imperfect, seemingly unfinished surfaces, which lend a strangely animated quality, Baselitz’s figures present a perplexing dichotomy. They are clumsy and anatomically skew-whiff, yet winningly vulnerable. Their poignancy may be due, in part, to the fact that Baselitz’s work is often autobiographical. Elke, his wife, who appears in Sing Sang Zero, is frequently present. BDM Group was inspired by a troubling childhood memory of his sister and two friends wearing the uniform of the League of German Girls (the sister group to the Hitler Youth). Baselitz does not avoid complex situations or memories, but confronts them head on. While his practice has met with controversy, perhaps it is his unfettered honesty and acknowledgment of human fallibility that contribute to the works’ particular poignancy.

Sculptures such as Yellow Song, Louise Fuller, and Moroccan (2012) are notable for their preoccupation with negative space—a Modernist precept associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, whom Baselitz acknowledges. These three works all embody a central form encircled by hoops, and each could be read as fetishistic, as if made for a purpose, like effigies in ritual ceremonies. Giant hoops also encircle the suspended Zero Mobile (2013–14), a bone-like, horizontal form with a skull motif at one end that recalls a vanitas. Baselitz has claimed his idiosyncratic and immediately recognizable work to be “brutal,” “naïve,” and “Gothic.” As “Sculptures 2011–2015” reveals, his output is as uncompromising as it is prodigious.