Rehabilitating the Scorned Legacy of East German Art

Posted filed underArt History, Germany, Shows.

 East German Art
Art created inside former East Germany has long been dismissed as a mere product of the communist regime, and much of it has remained hidden from the public. But a new exhibition in Weimar aims to rehabilitate these works as an expression of the failed utopian ideal on which the country was founded.

Spiegel reports: “East German art is a little loved chapter of art history. But from the first room of a new exhibit at the Neues Museum in Weimar, Germany, it’s clear that the intention is to prove that this low opinion was a misunderstanding, and in fact things in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) were very different than what those from West Germany have always claimed.

Two oil paintings, painted nearly 20 years apart, are meant to demonstrate what East German art was really about: not the endless class struggle, but rather the end of euphoria, a disappointment in oneself.

The first painting is a cityscape, created by Dresden artist Bernhard Kretzschmar in 1955. Much of the picture is green, with factory smokestacks puffing in the distance, an idyll of productivity. In the painting beside it, the surreal emptiness of a brown coal mining area stretches across the canvas. A pair of workers make their way across the coal-colored ground, while between them figures with boxes for heads float by. This enigmatic painting from 1974 is the work of Leipzig-based painter Wolfgang Mattheuer. Here in Weimar, 38 years after the picture’s creation and 22 years after East Germany ceased to exist, it’s presented as a contradictory work, a record of a destroyed landscape.

These two paintings figure prominently in the exhibition, called Abschied von Ikarus, or “Farewell to Icarus,” which opens this Friday. It could well become one of the most important exhibitions of the year, thanks to the great effort it puts into attempting to reevaluate the controversial legacy of East German art. The central thesis presented by the exhibition’s curators is that within just a few decades, the initial spirit of optimism in the GDR transformed into a kind of melancholy over the loss of the utopian ideal that had bound the country together — and that art in particular addresses this failure in a recognizable way. In fact, the curators suggest, artists even played their part in chipping away at the system.”

Read on at Spiegel International.

“Abschied von Ikarus,” at Weimar’s Neues Museum, runs through Feb. 3, 2013.

Image: Kunstsammlung Gera/ VG Bild-Kunst