Georg Baselitz, the giant of post-1960s German art, loves a gimmick. With his paintings, that’s turning them upside down to disrupt pictorial conventions. With his sculptures, the subject of this Serpentine show, it’s carving them out of a single huge piece of wood.
The monumental figures on display are enormous, rough things. They’re carved with a chainsaw and chisel, covered in cuts and deep mechanical gouges. Some are long legs teetering on high heels, others are full bodies, some figures are skulls, others are couples, their arms intertwined. Loops of wood appear repeatedly, carved out of the tree and free moving but inseparable from the trunk itself.
What are they about, what do they represent? Not even Baselitz seems to know. His accompanying texts talk about rattles, cocoa whisks, train tracks, Western films, prunes. He sees the work as ‘a question’, or an extension of German philosophical traditions.
That leaves it open the viewer to interpret. Are they about mortality, physicality, philosophy, the battle of man vs nature? Or are they just some faux-primitive, pompous, ugly wood carvings? A boy with his chainsaw toy who can’t stop playing with himself?
I’m in the latter camp, I don’t think they’re good sculptures, and I don’t think there are any good ideas here. But maybe I just can’t see the wood for the trees.