Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Professor Jörg Immendorff's 60th Birthday

Jörg Immendorff, who shot to fame in the 1970's with the Cafe Deutschland series - cartoon-like collocations infused with a dyspeptic left-wing sensibility - is 60 today.

Immendorff has a pleasingly reassuring, pontifical view of the artist's role in society - most of his productions were generated pour epater le bourgeoisie and "to force people to see their context in a new way."

His modish, undemanding postures were rewarded with a professorship at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, a lucrative sinecure giving him financial security, as well as an ivory tower from which to look down on and epater the taxpayers who help to fund his lifestyle.

He is partial to self-indulgence. During the 1980's he was a fixture on the German social scene. He recalls parties given by Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis as an especial highlight.

"People liked having painters around in those days," he once said, "and I always liked to party. Maybe I liked all that a bit too much for a while."

Last year Immendorff was arrested in the Steigenberger Parkhotel in central Düsseldorf in possession of 21.6 grammes of cocaine and seven prostitutes. The professor defended himself by saying that, as an artist, he was under no compulsion to live within the law. He was later to regret those arrogant words, not least because his conviction threatened his pretty young wife's state-funded pension arrangements.

He was given an 11 month suspended sentence and a fine of 150,000 euros for his crimes. His employers, the Nordrhein-Westphalen Wissenschaftsministerium (Ministry of Science) held back from further punishment "in recognition of his serious illness". Because his sentence was under 12 months (which would have required mandatory disciplinary action), Frau Immendorff's pension was saved.

Aside from the pension, suffering from the incurable muscle-wasting syndrome ALS has given Immendorff's life a purpose and point not given it by art, professorship and politics alone. Immendorff has endowed the Jörg Immendorff Stipendium, which is devoted to finding a cure for ALS.

It may not save his life, nor his artistic reputation, but it allows Professor Immendorff to give something back to the society which has given so much to him.

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