Reactor

Georg Baselitz Is a Sexist Grump

by Jillian Steinhauer on January 30, 2013

Georg Baselitz in front of one of his paintings (image via fansiter.com)

Georg Baselitz in front of one of his paintings (image via fansiter.com)

Women, ladies, girls, however you identify — if you’ve got two X chromosomes, I’m talking to you, and I have an unfortunate announcement: You can’t paint. At least not well. So if you’re thinking about becoming a painter, don’t do it; you’ll never be any good. If you already are one, I’m sorry; you should probably take up knitting instead.

This cold, hard, and disappointing truth comes courtesy of Georg Baselitz, the renowned German painter who turned 75 last week and seems pretty damn grumpy about it, at least compared to the other septuagenarians I’ve known. “Women don’t paint very well,” Baselitz told Der Spiegel in a recent interview. “It’s a fact.”

That nugget comes in the midst of a fairly infuriating third page of the interview, which Der Spiegel has aptly titled “Women Simply Don’t Pass the Test,” after another one of Baselitz’s gem-like zingers. “What test?” the interviewers ask. “The market test, the value test,” he answers, which then leads us into the aforementioned assertion — I’m sorry, statement of fact — that women don’t paint very well.

Let’s read a little bit more, shall we? I’ll hold your hand and guide you through it.

Baselitz: Women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact. There are, of course, exceptions. Agnes Martin or, from the past, Paula Modersohn-Becker. I feel happy whenever I see one of her paintings. But she is no Picasso, no Modigliani and no Gauguin.

SPIEGEL: So women supposedly don’t paint very well.

Baselitz: Not supposedly. And that despite the fact that they still constitute the majority of students in the art academies.

SPIEGEL: It probably isn’t a genetic defect.

Baselitz: I think the defect actually lies with male artists. Male artists often border on idiocy, while it’s important for a woman not to be that way, if possible. Women are outstanding in science, just as good as men.

Translation: Women are bad at painting but smart! And what they should aspire to, in all fields, is to be “just as good as men.”

SPIEGEL: Women certainly aren’t as loud and obtrusive when it comes to how they present themselves. With its desire for the sensational, the market isn’t very forgiving of that.

Baselitz: Don’t you know who Marina Abramovic is? … She has talent, as do many women. But a painter doesn’t need any of that. In fact, it’s better not to have it. … Talent seduces us into interpretation. My sister could draw wonderfully, but she would never have hit upon the idea of becoming a painter. I never had that extreme talent.

Translation: Women are talented, but men are ambitious, and the latter is more important.

SPIEGEL: For centuries, art was a craft, an almost physical labor that was performed by men. Men were also the first art historians. Everything was male, and it’s simply stayed that way.

Baselitz: That has little to do with history. As I said, there are certainly some female artists: Helen Frankenthaler, Cecily Brown and Rosemarie Trockel.

Translation: history has nothing to do with history, and yes, fine, female artists do exist. They’re just not very good.

SPIEGEL: The latter is German, and she currently has a big show in New York. She is also well-regarded worldwide.

Baselitz: There’s a lot of love in her art, a lot of sympathy.

SPIEGEL: That doesn’t sound like praise. So what does she lack, and what does Modersohn-Becker lack, to make you not rank the two of them among the great artists?

Baselitz: Let me qualify that. There is, of course, quite a lot of brutality in art. Not brutality against others, but brutality against the thing itself, against what already exists. When Modersohn-Becker painted herself, she looked very unpleasant, and extremely ugly…

SPIEGEL: …and nude, at a time, around 1900, when it was completely taboo for women to portray themselves in that way.

Baselitz: Exactly. But she hesitated to destroy others, in other words, to really destroy Gauguin by going beyond his art. Men have no problem with that. They just do it. But you must know that I do love women.

SPIEGEL: Of course.

Baselitz: Yes, I’m constantly in love — with my own wife.

Translation: Women are tender and have warm, fuzzy feelings, like sympathy and love. That’s why I love them! They’re just not assholes, like us men, and being an asshole is necessary for true genius.

Well, at least he got that last part right, about men’s capacity for being assholes!

For what it’s worth, women aren’t Baselitz’s only touchy subject in the interview. He spends a large chunk of it lambasting German museums and the German public for basically not appreciating him enough. Yes, life is hard when you’re a famous white, male artist whose paintings sell for a lot of money. Good thing you have outlets like Der Spiegel to air your grievances.

Obviously Baselitz’s comments are offensive and gross, and some people tweeted some quite priceless reactions to them, which are too good not to share here.

But I don’t know if it says more about me or the art world — or simply the world — that my first reaction to Baselitz’s sexist comments was that they’re unsurprising. Sexism is not new. Women have been fighting the stereotype that they’re inferior at just about everything for centuries. I find myself actually sort of reassured that at least Baselitz is old and out of touch — a bit like the grandfather who makes racist comments at family gatherings, but you can’t sway him or change his mind because he’s been alive too long.

Other people on Twitter echoed my sentiment that, at heart, the issue here is less Baselitz and more the world in which he operates:

And I would definitely extend that indictment to Der Spiegel, whose editors basically excuse and forgive Baselitz’s comments in their introduction: “German painter Georg Baselitz has made a name for himself — and a fortune — by being provocative. In a SPIEGEL interview, he stays true to form by bashing Germans and their museums and saying that the best artists have less talent and can’t be women.”

This is letting him off far too lightly, although to the credit of the interviewers themselves, you can tell just by reading the text that they’re flabbergasted and trying to take him to task.

At the end of the day, controversy brings attention, which is obviously what Baselitz wants. “Painters just don’t live to draw attention to themselves in that way,” he says at one point, but of course the entire interview is proof that that’s not true. “What I do is quite aggressive and quite mean-spirited,” he also says. Well, at least the guy is self-aware.

AFC writer Corinna Kirsch made one of the most astute points when she tweeted:

I fear she’s right. The art world consistently rewards macho, bad boy behavior (see: Hirst, Koons, and basically every canoncial white male artist), so that even when there’s no blatant dismissal of women, there’s a latent sexism that permeates everything; existing hierarchies are reinforced through decisions about who gets to show where, who gets written about and interviewed, whose sales generate more money. All I can think of to really deal with Baselitz and his idiotic comments is to ignore him, and for Der Spiegel to now interview 10 women artists — young and old, emerging and established, white and of color — in his place.

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  • http://twitter.com/franklin_e Franklin Einspruch

    The art world consistently rewards macho, bad boy behavior

    Yep.

    All I can think of to really deal with Baselitz and his idiotic comments is to ignore him

    Well, you’re off to a great start.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Ha! Good point. Well, ignore him after I have my say, I suppose.

  • Cameron Masters

    I read this article in Der Spiegel last week — it’s definitely problematic. I won’t defend him, but Baselitz clearly prefers violent-looking paintings, and they TEND to be male (with MANY exceptions).

    He mentions Cecily Brown and Helen Frankenthaler and Rosemarie Trockel — they all make work that either is abrasive, or contains violent gestures, or both — they all fit into his taste.

    I guess the question to me isn’t whether or not he’s an old-fashioned sexist (that’s apparent), but whether it’s his taste in art that leads him to prefer paintings by men, or if it’s his misogyny that prevents him from seeing that there are female artists that also excel at making paintings that are in line with his taste.

    Oh, and should we be surprised that a postwar German artist in his mid-70s has a hypermasculine misogynist streak in him?

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Agreed on the surprise question. As for your other one, about whether it’s his taste that leads to his misogyny or vice versa — it’s an interesting question. My instinct says the latter. Taste can definitely be a reason for mostly liking paintings by men, but to take that preference to the point where you say “women can’t paint” seems extreme. Can taste really devolve into such blatant sexism? It seems like you’d need to at least have the seeds of it in you already.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.chapman.9026 Shawn Chapman

    Wow! Hell hath no fury like a….opps! Sorry!

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Well that’s not dismissive!

      • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.chapman.9026 Shawn Chapman

        If I had said, ‘Did da big bad man say sumpdin’ mean to youuu?’ that would have been dismissive.

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          I think they’re both pretty dismissive, but thanks for using literature on me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.chapman.9026 Shawn Chapman

            Jillian your personhood is infinitely valuable and not to be dismissed, but this corpse of feminist victimhood isn’t worth a sack full of fetid donkey doughnuts. Before my tenth birthday my mother gave me a piece of advice,”Sweetie, L-I-F-E is not fair, so man up, and act like you got a pair, and stop being such a wuss! And no, you’re not getting a bike for your birthday.”

  • http://twitter.com/convoskarsgard misch

    If thats his painting behind him it looks pretty shit. N maybe women r too busy feeding kids n husbands n dont get paid as much so cant afford to feed and stroke their own ego and indulge completely in pursuits of the self, smatterings of gatherings with other men pushing forward their agreed upon ideal in art. It doesnt matter, general public like what they like…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=872990511 Bridget Batch

      Totally agree, terrible painting.

  • jjarvis

    So we write an article to say that we should not write an article about him. He says women don’t paint well. You say men are assholes. And, the world keeps spinning.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      You mean this man is an asshole, not men.

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        What Hrag said. And you’re right, I should refine what I said: we need to call him out on his BS, and then we should ignore it.

      • Jillian Steinhauer

        Actually, I feel the need to clarify further and say that I didn’t even call Baselitz an asshole. I said he was right about men’s capabilities for being assholes—capabilities that women have, too.

        • jjarvis

          Oh, sorry. I did not see where you said in your article that women also have those capabilities. However, I do find it hard to comment on this because I, have often felt that my own inability to project the image of a self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing blow hard has stood in the way of a more successful career in “Fine Art.” Why is that such a requirement? Of course, the bigger question touched on by your article is why do we persist in giving these alpha-assholes places of admiration and success in our general culture. Hasn’t that behavior worn itself out yet?

          • Guest

            clueless.

          • Jillian Steinhauer

            No, you’re right that I didn’t mention women’s capabilities in that, but I definitely believe they have them. (Being a jerk is universal!) As for why we consistently and constantly reward such obnoxious behavior: I really wish I knew. I think the nature of our culture is that loud, self-aggrandizing people tend to get ahead. I fear it’s been like that forever. I’m not sure if there’s a way to change it.

  • blackdogg

    Y all got Trolled by a damaged Kraut, whos a pretty good fucking painter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.vankirk Jim VanKirk

    Hrag, I see you’re succumbing to the hysterical puritan strain in Feminist politics, seeing misogyny in every statement and using that to support a claim to uniqueness.

  • Andres Manniste

    Before everyone hyperventilates too much, Baselitz (not that I am a fan of his – please don’t flame me), is vocalising observations already recorded by feminists like Germaine Greer (The Obstacle Race, 1979), where she states that most women are too real-life practical to pursue art as a long-term career and Camille Paglia, who feels that “sky gods” and their monuments are a male invention since women have always physically known the literal source of all creation (“If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts”. Sexual Personae, 1990). I just think that in a moment of self-centered importance Baselitz didn’t really consider how many people he was insulting.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Don’t get me started on Paglia, Andres! And while you’re right in saying that Baselitz isn’t the only one to make these assertions, to me that doesn’t let him off the hook. Just because lots of people make statements dismissing half of the population doesn’t mean those statements are OK.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lola.scarpitta Lola Scarpitta

    I’m amazed he even bothered to remember one female artist name let alone a half dozen. Those half dozen must engender envy in him. A sad old relic of male art dominance gone by.

  • punktoad

    Jay Defoe is a better painter than Jasper Johns and Jasper Johns is a better painter than Georg Baselitz!

  • http://www.facebook.com/leona.cochrane Leona Cochrane

    One person surpassing and destroying others is not relevant to a contemporary society were several perspectives can exist without taking away from or destroying others

  • R Rodriguez

    Bazelitz made the comment ‘women can paint’ and a few other derogatory remarks as to why, years ago, but I guess no-one noticed then. He’s always been a blow-hard. So why the surprise? Frankly, I’ve always found his work full of pompous, hot air (boooooring) just like him. (can’t remember what publication those comments were in, it was back in the late 80’s.)

  • Den Hickey

    Even if Baselitz were right, the vast majority of female painters would still be far better than him.

  • samthor

    Someone is taking themselves a bit seriously.
    To belive that market value is the ONLY value worth noting.
    To think market value somehow equals creative, technical, and expressive quality.
    It is THE problem with the art world today.
    Prices are corrupt and meaningless and yet we’re all supposed to believe it as true.

    Ambition IS more important than talent. That much is true.
    Ambition will kick talent’s butt every time.

  • http://twitter.com/narangkar Narangkar Glover

    This is how the conversation works:

    Important man with a platform makes an inflammatory statement about the inferiority of _______________ (choose any minority group with a history of being marginalized) in _______________ (choose a field).

    Public is outraged! Responds by presenting a list of successful ____________ in such field.

    Advantage? Jerk. (They know they have the platform in the first place). Jerk then evaluates the list. And the evaluation of this list is on THEIR terms, their platform, their subjectivity. Public hands them the keys to the proverbial Rolls Royce.

    Brian Sewell. Case. In. Point.

    Lesson? The only way to shut em up is to kick em in the balls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=890540225 David Jager

    Baselitz is actually saying that women lack a certain idiotic viscerality that lends vigor to painting (the kind of painting he likes, that is)- He suggests that women are too restrained and ‘refined’ in their sensibilities. Part of the Ab-ex and Post AbEx school reveled in this sort of macho idea of painting as primal excrement flinging, or the paintbrush as penis. I think that’s what he’s getting at when he says that talent interferes with art. So if he’s guilty of sexism, its a certain objectifying sexism: women are too gentle and refined to be artists. The women artists he does mention (Frankenthaler, Cecily Brown) are gestural and bold and unafraid, obviously the kind of painting he goes for. But mostly he’s just attaching gender to certain traits. You have to be a bit of an obnoxious, instinctive, paint slathering brute to be a good painter, according to him. Should women painters start drinking themselves blind and brawling before hitting the studio in order to get his attention?

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      No, definitely not—the point isn’t to get his attention anyway. And I think your clarification of the type of sexism he’s engaging in is spot-on. But “a certain objectifying sexism” is still sexism, and quite an unpleasant one, I might add. Seeing women as too restrained and refined to be bold, macho, aka good, painters is completely useless. It’s founded in myths and stereotypes not just of what women are but of what painting is (or should be), too.

  • http://twitter.com/mruxndesign KRIS

    PLEASE DO NOT GET UPSET! IT IS NOT WORTH WASTING OUR TIME WITH THOUGHTLESS COMMENTS LIKE THESE! WHO IS THIS GUY ANYWAY? LOL :) BE HAPPY AND ENJOY WHAT EVER YOU DO!

    LOVE KRIS

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.chapman.9026 Shawn Chapman

    It’s not what he said about artists who happen to be women that is the problem, but that women believe it to be true. Every time there is a women only show at a women only gallery, or a feminist artist who has made her bones by her political stance rather than an artistic one, isn’t a statement,”Hey, we’re really not as good as men” being made?

  • John Greene

    Or, maybe he’s right? I’m sure that 100 years from now the virtues of femininity will be extolled and those of men denigrated and then the shoe will be on the other foot and the outrage will point the other direction. Don’t give into provincialism.

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