Art and cities

Martin Kippenberger's Metro-Net

Metro-Net was a great art idea by Martin Kippenberger -- simple, intelligent, accessible, thought-provoking and funny. Kippenberger imagined a global underground metro system and started to construct entrances to it in different cities around the world.

Of course, the entrances didn't actually lead anywhere (if you insist on your art being profound as well as amusing, there must be something to be said about these portals to nowhere). Furthermore, Kippenberger died in 1997, aged 43, having only completed a few.

Nevertheless, it's a lovely idea -- a global underground connecting Syros in Greece, where Kippenberger built the first subway entrance in 1993, with Dawson City in Canada and Münster in Germany, where evidence of this subway was also planted, along with New York and Alaska and a bunch of other (unrealised) locations. The artist planned to have subway entrances, exits and ventilation shafts installed in locations around the world.

Kippenberger's motive seems to be mischief and a sense of fun, as much as any more serious commentary on globalisation or communities. The idea of a global subway is such a nice one that maybe the art doesn't work as a cultural critique at all -- except, perhaps, that it draws attention to the ways in which we largely don't travel casually around the whole world; we are insular, our options limited, our world too bureaucratic. In a 1990 interview, Kippenberger said:

"People come along [in twenty years or so] and can say what the work and the artist were really all about. What people will say about me then -- or maybe not say -- will be the only thing that finally counts. Whether or not I contributed to spreading a good mood. What I'm working on is for people to be able to say that Kippenberger had this really good mood".
  The Metro-Net entrance in Syros, Greece

The fake subway entrance supposedly leading to major cities in other continents is certainly -- to me at least -- a warm and engaging idea, although it's a bittersweet pleasure, since one can't actually go anywhere. It's a good art idea because it's clever and childishly playful at the same time -- a practical joke -- but also quite obviously raises questions about our metropolitan lives in the context of our existence on the planet.

It's also nice that these meanings are not buried from everyday viewers. Like Gilbert and George, Kippenberger said that his art was for the people ("One of you, among you, with you" read one of his posters from 1979).

Metro-Net also raised the opportunity for drawing a fantastic tube map (connecting New York to Moscow, Dublin to Addis Ababa) which could be displayed at all the entrances, but, as far as I know, Kippenberger didn't really produce one.

Extra Kippenberger insights

  Metro-Net ventilation pipe sculpture Munster, Germany

In This is Modern Art, Matthew Collings (1999: 211) notes:

"Kippenberger churned out many paintings... You could believe Kippenberger really could paint but also that for him really being able to paint wasn't the main point. What was the main point? It was to be ironic and jokey and creative and individual."

In the article "The Bad Boys in the Bande" (Art in America, 1988), Stephen Ellis wrote:

"Kippenberger invariably insists on the most brutal expression of an idea... Picking the scabs off the skin of fading media images has been a tactic of Pop art from its inception, but Kippenberger is very good at it. He brings the junk that society churns out to our attention with the pride of a cat dragging the carcass of a mouse into the living room."
  Kippenberger's diagrams for construction of a Metro-Net entrance.
  This entrance floats in a lake at Kassel. Not sure whether this is a photo or a simulation.

In the 1990 interview with Jutta Koether published in Flash Art, directly before talking about how his art should spread "a good mood" (see above), Kippenberger said:

"I'm not a 'real' painter, nor a 'real' sculptor, I only look at all that from the outside and sometimes try my hand at it, trying to add my own particular spice. I'm not interested in provoking people, but only in trying to be consoling. I always think of the things I do, quite unambiguously, as truly living vehicles. Assuming roles is something that simply won't work for me, since I don't have a style. None at all. My style is where you see the individual and where a personality is communicated through actions, decisions, single objects and facts, where the whole draws together to form a history".

In the obituary by New York Times critic Roberta Smith, she wrote:

"A dandyish, articulate, prodigiously prolific artist who loved controversy and confrontation and combined irreverence with a passion for art, Mr. Kippenberger worked at various points in performance art, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation art and photography and also made several musical recordings... He considered no style or artist's work off-limits for appropriation, though his paintings most frequently resembled heavily worked, seemingly defaced fusions of Dadaism, Pop and Neo-Expressionism and often poked fun at the art world or himself... His penchant for mixing media, styles and processes influenced younger artists on both sides of the Atlantic..."

Web links

  A Metro-Net entrance in Geneva, Switzerland -- possibly

Metro-Net site -- It's not clear who made this site, but it seems to be the (official?) Metro-Net site, with a map showing links to various cities. Clicking on Syros, Dawson City or Munster leads to photographs of Kippenberger's installations in those places; the other city links offer photographic evidence of Metro-Net's existence in those locations too-- mysterious staircases, air vents and holes in the ground which may or may not lead to the mythic global metro.

A Homage to Martin Kippenberger -- Several pages by artists and friends. The two links below are part of this.

New York Times Obituary by Roberta Smith, (March 1997).

Artforum Obituary by Ronal Jones (March 1997).