Often mentioned in the same breath as his near contemporaries Georg Baselitz, AR Penck, Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer, Markus Lüpertz is both a big name and something of a mystery – certainly to London audiences. The German artist has seldom shown here, although he was included in the Royal Academy’s seminal 1981 exhibition ‘A New Spirit in Painting’, a show regarded with such awe by painters that those who took part seem sprinkled with magic. Peter Doig saw the show; it was his introduction to Lüpertz’s art, and now he brings his own selection of Lüpertz’s work, mostly painting but also sculpture, from the past five decades to London.
And it’s perfect. Proof that the ‘Neo-Expressionist’ tag was always too limiting for Lüpertz can be found at every turn. Pre-occupied with the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ to paint, he comes across as an intensely thoughtful but equally physical painter. Witty too. What better that the motif of a tent to talk about assembling and disassembling an image (Lüpertz anticipating postmodernism in the pop art 1960s)?
This is work that demands to be seen in the flesh, where the economy of Lüpertz’s touch is thrilling. He’s actually the anti-neo-expressionist, creating stark, darkly seductive images that are most powerfully restrained when exploring German post-war identity (‘Helmet I’, 1970).
In the ground floor gallery, you’re brought bang up to date with a series of recent paintings that reveal the artist’s obsession with classical motifs and landscapes. This is Lüpertz locating himself in art history. Yet, the works come across not as a retreat into the past but as an extended riff on the pleasure and possibility of painting.