Zwei Deutschland(s)

16. März 2009 / Eingestellt von thw um 15:00 /

Über 'H-ARTHIST Humanities-Net Discussion List for Art History E-Mail-Liste fuer Kunstgeschichte im H-Net' haben wir die erste Besprechung der Ausstellung 'Kunst aus zwei Deutschlands' im Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) von Doris Berger erhalten:

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (L.ACMA) is the first host of an
ambitious exhibition project about the art of post war Germany, or
more specifically: the two Germanys. It features 300 art works that
were created between 1945 and 1989 by 120 artists from West Germany
(FRG, Federal Republic of Germany) and East Germany (GDR, German
Democratic Republic). The subtitle "Cold War Cultures" stresses the
fact that there were ideological implications in the art production on
both sides of the Iron Curtain. LACMA's Senior Curator Stephanie
Barron initiated this exhibition and found in her German colleague and
co-curator Eckhart Gillen, from Kulturprojekte (Berlin), a most
knowledgeable partner. Both curators have worked in the area of German
art before, but whereas Barron has concentrated on topics situated
historically earlier, such as German Expressionism, the "degenerate
art" show by the Nazis, and the art and culture of the exiles and
émigrés in California, Gillen is a specialist in postwar German art
with a particular expertise in art from the GDR.[1] For the extensive
catalogue, which also offers historical background information, Barron
collaborated with Sabine Eckmann (Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St.
Louis) who co-edited the book.[2]

The exhibition display is organized in chapters following a
chronological order and starts with the destruction of Germany at the
end of the Second World War. From 1945-1949 a grim Germany is shown as
lost in mourning and debris documenting the apocalyptic scenario and
the searching for a new cultural identity after the horrors of the
Nazi era. Photographs of bombed remains by Richard Peter Sr. or
Herbert List and drawings by Wilhelm Rudolph as well as Hans Grundig's
painting "To the Victims of Fascism" (1946/49) visualize death and
destruction in a painful way. At the same time, joy in the newly
gained freedom from the Hitler dictatorship can be seen in colorful
abstractions painted right after the war by Ernst Wilhelm Nay and
Werner Heldt.

In 1949 Germany's split into two different political systems started a
formal and ideological debate: the West saw abstract art as a sign of
freedom,[3] while the East developed its own distinct language of
figurative art (Social Realism), officially defying abstract art.[4]
In a remarkably installed gallery, these two different artistic
approaches are juxtaposed. Although the works clash aesthetically,
their proximity shows convincingly that both art productions were part
of an ideological machine, however divergent. In addition, the
curators manage to transcend a simple binary thinking and build a
bridge between the ideologies by presenting the outstanding work of
the artist Herrmann Glöckner (Dresden). He officially worked as a GDR
graphic designer but privately made abstract art with small objects of
daily life. This room with the Glöckner showcase in its center
epitomizes the aim of the exhibition, through discussing the political
implications in their dialectics but transcending them at the same time.

The art of the '60s is presented as an explosion of the senses.
Entering this room, viewers are engulfed by the intense chocolate
smell from Dieter Roth's "Schokoladenlöwenturm" (1969) and visually
overwhelmed by the abstract formations by the ZERO group. There are
photographs of different Fluxus performances, a reconstruction of
Gerhard Richter's installation "Volker Bradke" (1966) and Sigmar
Polke's wall installation "Die Fünfziger Jahre" (1963-69). Here, the
main focus lies on capitalist culture of the West during the years of
the "Wirtschaftswunder". Wolf Vostell's "B-52
(Lippenstiftbomber)" (1968) is an adequate multilayered metaphor for
this time. But the question is: what happened in the East at that
time? When the Berlin wall was erected in 1961, hopes for a
politically different society were shattered and many East Germans
moved to the West. The cultural climate of the 60s in the East was
very different from the thriving culture of the West, nevertheless art
outside of the official Social Realism always existed. Why do we not
see what had been produced there, such as the officially disapproved
but nevertheless existing abstract art?[5] Stephanie Barron explained
this as an aesthetical decision and stressed the fact that she wanted
to avoid a continuous ongoing comparison between East and West in the
same rooms throughout the exhibition.

Large exhibitions of comparable size and ambition are always
confronted with necessary exclusions and various decisions that stay
hidden from the audience. Regarding the declared aim of the exhibition
to show the impact of politics on society and art, it is regrettable
though that there remains a blind spot on the feminist movement that
was so important in Germany in the 1970s. This perspective would have
been significant because pre-war gender roles recurred in the post-war
era. Especially in the so-called "free" West the role models for women
were less free than in the East. The western ideology of the economic
boom (Wirtschaftswunder) was efficient in sending women back to their
kitchen. Decades later, these reactionary gender politics caused
various artistic reflections on the status of images and the power of
representation. Thus, feminist art had a greater impact in the
development of West German art, which could have been found in the
works by Ulrike Ottinger, Ulrike Rosenbach or Annegret Soltau. The
following galleries representing the late 1960s and '70s are devoted
to works that deal critically with the Nazi past, indeed a very
important subject that shaped this time as well. Although we see
important paintings from East and West by Baselitz, Lüpertz,
Schönebeck, Kiefer, Tübke, Penck, Mattheuer, Vostell and Richter, the
gap of missing works of women artists and their coming to terms with
their past and present is highly visible. [6]

The galleries devoted to the art of the 1980s are more diverse. While
some works still deal with the Nazi past, like Georg Herold's
brilliant sculpture "Laokoon (Laokoön)" (1984) and Olaf Metzel's
project "Türkenwohnung" (1982), other works tackle issues about terror
connected to the RAF (Red Army Faction) in West Germany. Another
perspective is devoted to the photographic documentation of the East
and West German societies. The curators effectively show the important
role of photography for both East and West since the 1950s.
Interestingly, the show brings together several works of women
photographers who were active in the GDR, such as Evelyn Richter,
Barbara Metselaar-Berthold, Helga Paris, Gundula Schulze Eldowy, Maria
Sewcz, or Sibylle Bergemann.[7] Another outstanding body of work from
the 1980s are the provocative and surrealistic performances and
objects of the "Autoperforation Group" (Else Gabriel, Via Lewandowsky,
Micha Brendel, and Rainer Görß) that went beyond any kind of sense
making machinery.

On the question why this exhibition originated and is first shown in
Los Angeles, curator Stephanie Barron answered that there is a deep
interest in German art and culture in California, partly because of so
many well-known immigrants that found refuge here during the Nazi era.
In a review of the show in the New York Times Michael Kimmelman stated
that this exhibition represented "a fresh and sympathetic view of
postwar art on both sides of the Wall." [8] I would like to add that
the educational value should not be underestimated either,
simultaneously showing the aesthetic developments and the socio-
political contexts of two Germanys during in the Cold War. Even though
there are blind spots, this exhibition in the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art is a tour de force through post war German art history
that finally engages the audience to look closer on both sides of the
Iron Curtain.

Editor: Carolin Behrmann

[1] Other exhibitions curated by Stephanie Barron: German
Expressionism 1915-1925: The Second Generation, Los Angeles County
Museum of Art 1988; "Degenerate art": The Fate of the Avant-garde in
Nazi Germany, Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1991; Exiles + Emigrès:
The Flight of European Artists from Hitler, Los Angeles County Museum
of Art, 1997. Eckhart Gillen curated the exhibition Deutschlandbilder:
Kunst aus einem geteilten Land, Martin Gropius Bau 1997; see also his
publications, such as: Kunst in der DDR, co-ed. with Rainer Haarmann,
Köln 1990; Das Kunstkombinat DDR: Zäsuren einer gescheiterten
Kunstpolitik, Köln 2005. Feindliche Brüder? Der Kalte Krieg und die
deutsche Kunst 1945-1989, Köln 2009.

[2] Stephanie Barron/Sabine Eckmann (eds.), Art of Two Germanys: Cold
War Cultures, exhib.-cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York:
Abrams, 2009.

[3] That might be comparable to Abstract Expressionism in the US, see:
Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. Abstract
Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1983.

[4] For Walter Ulbricht abstract art was an expression of the
capitalist downfall and contradicted the GDR ideology as he stated in
a speech at Volkskammer on 30 October 1951: "Wir wollen in unseren
Kunsthochschulen keine abstrakten Bilder mehr sehen. Wir brauchen
weder Bilder von Mondlandschaften noch von faulen Eiern. Die Grau-in-
Grau-Malerei, die ein Ausdruck des kapitalistischen Niedergangs ist,
steht im schroffsten Widerspruch zum heutigen Leben in der DDR."

[5] This was the focus of an entire exhibition. See: Sigrid Hofer
(ed.): Gegenwelten. Informelle Malerei in der DDR. Das Beispiel
Dresden, exhib.-cat. Marburger Kunstverein, Frankfurt a. M./Basel:
Stroemfeld/Roter-Stern, 2006.

[6] One reason might be that some of the works have been shown in the
critically acclaimed group exhibition on feminist art curated by
Cornelia Butler entitled WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, The
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,
2007. Despite that, it would have been extremely important to include
some works with feminist concerns in the show in order to relate
feminism to a wider social and political development. The risk is high
that the uncanny prediction of Amelia Jones comes into effect,: "...
all of us writing about and exhibiting art under the rubric of
feminism are participating in a broad scale PR campaign that packages
feminism as a commodity to be bought and sold (and, very soon no
doubt, to be rendered obsolete once again)." Amelia Jones, "1970/2007:
The Return of Feminist Art," in: X-tra, v. 10, no. 3, Spring 2008, p. 5.

[7] The American reception compares some of the artists to its own
cultural reference system. Barbara Metselaar-Berthold is called "East
Germany's Nan Goldin" or Schulze-Eldowy as a "kind of German samizdat
Diane Arbus". See Michael Kimmelmann, "Art in Two Germanys Often Spoke
the Same Tongue," in: The New York Times, 12. February 2009.

[8] Michael Kimmelmann, "Art in Two Germanys Often Spoke the Same
Tongue", in: New York Times, February 12, 2009.

Demnächst hier in Berlin. Und jetzt die Kritik der NYT suchen!

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