In 1994, Michael Krebber exhibited with Marc Jancou at his gallery London Projects a series of paintings and works on paper. At this early point in his career, he emerged from enigmatic obscurity as the assistant of both Martin Kippenberger and George Baselitz to the forefront of the art world as a painter in his own right. This exhibition is an early example of Michael Krebber’s painting style which would go on to have a profound influence on the aesthetics and conceptual concerns of a new field of painting in Contemporary Art.
Due in part to his previous work as an artist assistant and his presence in the Cologne art scene, Michael Krebber is an artist often positioned in relationship to the notable artists that surrounded him, be it the pastiche and irreverence of Sigmar Poke or Kippenberger’s humor which come through in Krebber’s practice. However, strong references to his artististic contemporaries in his work is something he has tried to distance himself from in developing his style. Michael Krebber when working with Martin Kippenberger did not want to be named as an "assistant" to the artist, but regarded himself Kippenberger’s "employee". While Kippenberger, only one year Krebber’s senior, could be considered an artist of the 1970s and 1980’s, Michael Krebber’s practice grew in prominence and relavence in the 1990s and 2000s with his distinctively hesitant, rebellious, light-handed and “conceptually-empty” approach to production. This work was shown in a key period when Krebber was beginning to break out as a significant artist in his own right out of the shadow of Kippenberger and Baselitz and other giants of the Cologne-based art scene.
Excerpt from essay from the exhibition “Krebber” at Galerie Nagel Draxler, 2014
Krebber thinks, writes, talks, but he does not paint, at least he did not for a long time, although - as Merlin Carpenter stresses in his "repression text" about Krebber - it was always about painting for him. In Carpenter's psychoanalytically-oriented interpretation, Krebber does not paint, he "consciously represses" and he does this even if he paints. According to Carpenter, Krebber represses the actual - the great "repressors" his substitute fathers, the painter princes Markus Lupertz and Georg Baselitz - who painted and painted as if there were no yesterday.
At least in one point - that of privileging thinking before practice -, one could see Krebber as an apologist of postwar critical theory (which abruptly ended in the late 1980s), in another, broader perspective, as in that of art history. Makers and doers are corrupted in Adorno's eyes, and he notes that "whoever does not let (thinking) atrophy has not resigned." One could also understand Krebber's block in this sense: as subversive thinking as opposed to the practice in an intellectual tradition that cannot reconcile thinkers and makers and that - at the start of the 2000s, following more than a decade of post-Iron Curtain paralysis from the Left - appears unconditionally subordinated to a neoliberalism that has assimilated all forms of political resistance.
Krebber does paint, however. And it is in the context of the mentioned historical timespan, in confrontation with his artistic predecessors, that he made what are perhaps his most significant works. The references that he connects here are finer than the double-binds of identification and defense. Krebber's paintings from the 1990s and early 2000s form a counterpoint to a kind of archaeology of modern art as practiced by artists like Sigmar Polke, Albert Oehlen, or Martin Kippenberger - artists fond of incorporating historical references in their paintings humorously, as a kind of artist joke. For unlike his colleagues, Krebber rarely used words on his canvases during this period, but keeps it to painting with his diminishingly fragmented, "implied" (in the best sense of the word) visual quotes.
Krebber does not negate his predecessors; he strips them away. He has, in these post-Reunification years, quasi "unpainted" his Cologne environment, perhaps even his era. This is his work. Painting after Krebber could, in that respect, - and I say this without irony - be incredibly difficult.