Two heavy hitters on the DC museum scene team up for the first major US survey of Markus Lüpertz's work.
Markus Lüpertz has shows at the Hirshhorn and the Phillips Collection.
This summer, DC museum-goers will add a new word to their vocabulary: dithyrambic. It’s a term that pops up over and over in the work of Markus Lüpertz, a Neo-Expressionist painter whose art will be on view at both the Phillips Collection and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The unlikely collaboration is bringing in dozens of works spanning five decades and ranging from the colorful to the cryptic.
A dithyramb, as Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski explains, is a choral hymn that appears in ancient Greek texts, typically an improvised verse in poems and songs devoted to Dionysus, the god of theater, wine, ecstasy, and madness. Lüpertz’s expressive paintings dive into religion and ritual but from a slightly different point than the god of the hearth. “Ironically, he uses the most ordinary objects in his dithyrambic paintings to challenge normal ideas about abstraction,” says Kosinski, who curated the comprehensive survey of Lüpertz’s paintings at the Phillips Collection.
The Hirshhorn, meanwhile, is taking a narrower approach, focusing tightly on early mature works the artist made between 1962 and 1975, including one 40-foot-long painting, Westwall (Siegfried Line). This show includes paintings of a variety of subjects—from Donald Duck to German military motifs—all of which tend to serve the same purpose in his work. “Motifs, for Lüpertz, provided the impetus to trigger the creative process, but he saw them as ultimately being drained of content by the very act of making art,” says Evelyn Hankins, curator for the Hirshhorn. Twin Lüpertz exhibits will represent a turn from the festive spring shows at both institutions (Toulouse-Lautrec at the Phillips, Yayoi Kusama at the Hirshhorn). Having two presentations—the first in-depth surveys of Lüpertz at any US museum—will help viewers get to know work that is cerebral and exuberant, if sometimes cryptic. “Our collaboration is quite natural and complementary,” Kosinski says of the exhibitions. “The two together provide rich insights into and demonstrate fully his artistic vision.”
“Markus Lüpertz” through September 3 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW, 202-387-2151; phillipscollection.org.“Markus Lüpertz: Threads of History” through September 10 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Seventh Street SW and Independence Avenue, 202-633-1000; hirshhorn.si.edu