GENESIS | Markus Lüpertz


LAMMSTRASSE – Direction Marktplatz


Snails are slower than fire.

Photography: Atelier Altenkirch, Karlsruhe

Snails are slower than fire.

Photography: Atelier Altenkirch, Karlsruhe

As is often the case, this ceramic picture by Markus Lüpertz is enigmatic and thus the viewer cannot grasp its intention at first glance. The only clearly recognizable figure is Dante himself, positioned in the center and, with his head slightly tilted and his mouth open, is giving the impression of speaking. The recourse to the “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) suggests that Dante, as depicted there, is talking to the eternally damned – here: the one already partially transformed into a snail. In the 8th circle of hell, in which we are probably with this picture, the walls and floor are lined with tar according to Dante. This fits to the black background and floor, on which the snail man is, stretching a skull towards Dante.

According to the “Divine Comedy”, the 8th and 9th circles of Hell are the worst places of the Inferno because impostors must stew there. Thus, the remaining characters behind Dante can be read as such; the infernal chaos is illuminated by the red of hellfire, which Lüpertz lays over geometric ripples that can be seen in his ceramic paintings on various occasions in connection with the “Divine Comedy”. Originally, Lüpertz had made the direct reference via the title in this picture as well, which was his “own interpretation of the Inferno”. The connection to the royal dignity can be established more generally as an association to the transgressions from which crowned heads are not exempt.

Text & translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023


The word “Genesis” comes from ancient Greek and means “creation, origin, birth”, but can also be used to designate the origin. In the biblical-Christian context, it refers to the 1st Book of Moses, in which the account of the creation of the world is recorded. In the 14 ceramic paintings by Markus Lüpertz, scenes associated with Christianity appear only twice: At the Kronenplatz stop (north side), there is the scene of Salome dancing before Herod, which is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. At the Marktplatz stop (west side) Lüpertz depicts the scene of Christ in the underworld, which, however, is not reported in the Bible but in the so-called Apocrypha, which are Gospels not included in the Bible.

Text & translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023

Markus Lüpertz created 14 reliefs in clay with a total weight of 20 tons for the seven subway stations in Karlsruhe between spring 2020 and summer 2022. Each of the paintings consists of ten panels of 100 x 80 cm each with a relief structure up to 30 cm thick. The name “Genesis” for the series derives from the seven stations, but a religious interpretation falls far short: Markus Lüpertz primarily processed stories from the Gilgamesh epic, from antique mythology, but also from pagan folk beliefs and the “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), which he combined with scientific knowledge of our time. Thereby he creates his own artistic interpretation of the Creation Story as a free, associative approach to a theme that occurs in all world religions. Also, it can also be understood as the basis of our being. Lüpertz invites the viewer to immerse himself in these multi-layered picture stories in large format and, based on his own experiences and knowledge, to let his own “Genesis” emerge.

Text & translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023

Clay is an archaic material; the oldest known figure made of clay by human hands is the 11 cm high Venus figurine Dolní Věstonice (named after the place where it was excavated in what is now the Czech Republic). It dates from around 25,000 to 29,000 years ago and probably served cult purposes. Nevertheless – or perhaps precisely because of the long history that connects mankind with ceramics – it today often has the taint of craftsmanship. For many artists, especially since the post-war period, it was always just an episode.

In contrast, Markus Lüpertz is looking back on a long period of artistic creation in clay, starting with his first exhibition in the Maeght Lelong gallery in Zurich in 1986, which took place after an intense creative process stimulated by Eduardo Chillida and after an encounter with the ceramist Hans Spinner in Grasse. Lüpertz has repeatedly worked with the Karlsruher Majolika Manufaktur for several years and was able to further explore the special features of the material there.

Clay is a so-called additive material, meaning that the sculpture is created by building it up with the material, which is soft when wet. During the drying process, which lasts several months, the not yet fired and glazed ceramic, shrinks by up to 10 percent. Several steps are necessary to make ceramics finally extremely durable: First, it is further hardened by pre- or biscuit firing. Following the coloring and glazing it is finally given its finish at over 1,100 degrees in glost firing.

With the monumental series “Genesis”, for which more than 20 tons of clay were processed, Markus Lüpertz went to the limits: the size of 88 x 110 cm for each individual panel (ten panels make up one picture) was determined by the dimensions of the kiln. With a thickness of up to 30 cm, Lüpertz also pushed the material to the limit, because the thicker the shard, the greater the risk of spalling and cracking, or even breaking completely.

Text & translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023

Markus Lüpertz was born in 1941 in Reichenberg/Sudetenland, today Liberec/Czech Republic, and came to the Rhineland with his parents as a displaced person. He was rector of the Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1988 to 2009 but began his teaching career in 1974 at the Karlsruhe Art Academy, where he still lives and works today – in addition to Berlin, Düsseldorf and Florence. In this respect, the “Genesis” series is a gesture by the painter, graphic artist and sculptor that demonstrates his long connection with the city of Karlsruhe.

Lüpertz is considered one of the best-known German artists of the post-war period, and his artworks can be paraphrased with the title of an exhibition “art that stands in the way” (ZKM Karlsruhe, 2017). His involvement with clay as an artistic medium dates back to 1986, when he first showed ceramics at the Maeght Lelong Gallery (Zurich/CH). He can look back on many years of collaboration with the Karlsruhe Staatliche Majolika Manufaktur, where the first ceramic picture for the Karlsruhe subway was also produced. Connected with this was the idea of the “Genesis” initiator Anton Goll, to give the tradition-rich manufactory new splendor. Various reasons led to the separation from Majolika and the establishment of the “Black Forest Studio” in the Zeller Keramik Manufaktur GmbH & Co. KG in Zell am Harmersbach, where Lüpertz created the remaining 13 ceramics.

Text & translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023

As early as 2013, Anton Goll had the vision and, as former managing director of the Staatliche Majolika Karlsruhe Manufaktur, designed an overall artistic concept for upgrading the subway and simultaneously securing the future of the manufactory. In doing so he convinced the mayor, Dr. Frank Mentrup. At Goll’s instigation, he approached Markus Lüpertz with the request for an art work for the market square stop of the new underground railway as gift for the city’s 300th birthday in 2015. Within the subsequent discussions between Markus Lüpertz and Anton Goll the latter was able to convince the artist to design a concept covering the whole subway. Initially the intention was one art piece for each subway stop, an idea that was modified into 14 works, that is two for each stop. As initiator with overall responsibility, Anton Goll personally raised the funds for over 1 million euros by convincing entrepreneurs and politicians at the same time of his concept. For the implementation of the financing for donors and sponsors, Anton Goll founded the non-profit association Karlsruhe Art Experience e.V., for which he was able to attract well-known personalities from business, science and culture.

Originally, Markus Lüpertz intended to bring in different subjects but was persuaded to place his art works under one main theme. First, the title was “Genesis – The Seven Days of the Lord”, changed into “Genesis – Victory of the Divine”, then into “Genesis – Works and Days” and finally shortened into “GENESIS”. In the course of the development, the four elements were added as an independent subject. Therefore, the aspect of Integrity of Preservation – a subject that was very important to the initiator in order to involve the younger generation – finds its way into the monumental series. Anton Goll oversaw the entire project, from the initial idea through production to its final installation. Additionally, he also was responsible for the opening ceremony on 26th April, 2023.

Text: © Karlsruhe Kunst Erfahren e.V., 2023/translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023

Especially in the run-up, but again after the unveiling of the art works, they and Markus Lüpertz himself where subjected to harsh criticism. This was sparked once by the supposedly biblical-Christian content of the pictures, which is, however, limited to a single scene mentioned in the Bible (Kronenplatz, north side); another is described in the apocrypha (Gospel of Nicodemus) (M). Further criticism was leveled at Lüpertz and the restriction to one artist, and most recently at the fact that there was neither a competition nor the participation of younger artists.

The Munich office Allmann Sattler Wappner won the competition for the design of the subway stations, which, together with the light artist Ingo Maurer, also provided the art on the building requested in the call for competition. All municipal funds earmarked for Architectural Art were tied to the light art, and the competition called for in the discussion had already been made in favor of Ingo Maurer in 2004. At the instigation of the initiator Anton Goll, the Mayor of Karlsruhe, Dr. Frank Mentrup, approached Markus Lüpertz during the 300th city birthday in 2015 with the wish to give Karlsruhe a work of art for the new tunnel construction. Goll raised the funds for the entire project, and his concept convinced the political decision-makers as well. The decision for permanent loan with a gift option was made on July 25, 2017 – after the project had passed the culture committee, culture commission, council of elders, main committee and finally the municipal council – in favor of its temporary residence for a period of seven years. The ceramic paintings are a private initiative in public space, for which Anton Goll and the association Karlsruhe Kunst Erfahren e.V., which he founded and runs, are responsible.

Text & translation: © Chris Gerbing, 2023

Discover the three films on the creation, vernissage and ceremony as well as a contribution of the ZDF Heute Journal.

Special edition BNN: BNN – GENESIS -Magazin.

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For a first orientation, you will find here an overview of the 365-day-”Genesis” gallery, which can be reached by underground almost 24 hours a day.