Georg Baselitz dances to the tunes of Glyndebourne – Glass pays a visit to Glyndebourne’s very own White Cube gallery

Georg Baselitz dances to the tunes of Glyndebourne – Glass pays a visit to Glyndebourne’s very own White Cube gallery

It’s a wonder the Glyndebourne opera house has never raised suspicion among Scientologists, whose national headquarters are only a stone’s throw away in East Grinstead. In fact, walking through the grounds, skirting around the grand UFO that crashed into the Elizabethan property in 1994, there comes into view the very meteorite that might have knocked it out of the sky – or at least what looks like it.

The polycarbonate-clad angle that pokes out from behind the trees is in fact the design of award-winning architects. Eighteen months ago, Glyndebourne partnered up with White Cube and the two enlisted the help of Carmody Groarke to create a temporary pavilion in which to house a programme of visual art that will complement the Glyndebourne Festivals over the next three years.

Upon entering the unexpectedly well-lit gallery space, with its workmanlike structure of engineered timber, some might be shocked when confronted by the painted series of twelve large swastikas… made up of legs. To others, however, who know the artist to be quite the provocateur, it would come as no surprise. The German Neo-Expressionist, Georg Baselitz, has long challenged the status quo and provoked protest, including from the German authorities who confiscated a number of paintings from his first solo exhibition back in 1963. Among them Die grosse Nacht im Eimer (The Big Night Down the Drain), which depicted a masturbating dwarf-like figure.

Georg Baselitz Glyndebourne

In fact, the paintings in this show are rather tame and easy on the eye by comparison. Caught up in the musicality of the monochrome images, speedily scratched and splashed in black paint on light ground, it’s easy to forget about the swastika imagery. Even the way the exhibition is curated helps to draw you beyond taboo – the hanging of the pictures, too, is musical. It starts with the impactful bang of two huge paintings on the right hand wall, which yield to a series of smaller notes that tumble downwards, following the slope of the ceiling. The whole room looks like the hastily penned composition of an inspired musician.

And it turnes out there is a lot to discover beyond the swastikas. Inspired by and fighting against – in equal measure – a sweeping range of artists, movements, writers and musicians, as well as his own history, Baselitz has regularly identified with the image of the rebel, the partisan, the shepherd. He is an outsider, alienated by his own penchant for controversy and a stubborn desire to blaze his own trail, a new path for German art. Perhaps this is why he is so captivated by paintings of the annunciation. The empty space between Madonna and Angel, like a held breath, is laden with expectation and hope – something Baselitz tries to capture in the empty centre created by the centrifugal force of the spinning legs.

Baselitz’s disaffection could also explain why he is a leg man. He describes feet as his “earth-wire” and has been painting them since 1962. So the Glyndebourne series is part of an evolution of this motif, which has become something of an emblematic self portrait. After all, when you are wading against the flow of the mainstream, you can’t afford to lose your footing.

by Thomas Allen

White Cube at Glyndebourne will run alongside the Glyndebourne Festival from May 21 to August 30, 2015, Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 5UU