2012 SECAC: German Art after 1945 in Context

Chairs:  Catherine Dossin, Purdue University  and Victoria H.F. Scott, Emotory University


Restating the Avant-Garde: Subjective Photography, 1954-1958
Chu-Chien Wei, The Graduate Center, CUNY

In 1955, Albert Renger-Patzsch asked Lucia Moholy, the wife of Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, “What do you think of Dr. Steinert? What your husband and the Bauhaus people in 1925 did much better is now being propagated as brand-new.” Otto Steinert, whose second exhibition of Subjektive Photography had recently closed with an enthusiastic reception earlier in the same year, was at this time at the height of his fame. Steinert’s postwar restaging of prewar avant-garde photography must have seemed to Renger-Patzsch nothing more than plagiarism. The present paper examines Subjektive Photography as a postwar movement in West Germany whose goal was to redeem photography as an art form and to reclaim the legacy of the experimental photography in the 1920s—considered to be the highest standard of German photography. Wei then compares Steinert’s three Subjektive Photography exhibitions in 1951, 1954, and 1958 with the 1929 Film und Foto Exhibition in Stuttgart as well as The Family of Man at MoMA in 1955. In order to understand Subjektive Photography as a response to the postwar conditions of German photography, Wei addresses two themes emerging from Steinert’s definition: the emphasis on individual subjectivity and the postwar skepticism of technology.


Postwar German art and Cultural Diplomacy: Exhibitions at the Tate and the Museum of Modern Art, 1956-57 
Jennifer McComas, Indiana University Art Museum

In 1951, art historian Bernard Myers noted that postwar German art was remarkable for “its complete lack of direct response to the conditions of the time,” a reference to the new dominance of abstraction in West German art. Several years later, museum-goers outside Germany had one of their first opportunities to view this new art, when the Tate Gallery in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented the first major surveys of German modernism in English-speaking countries since the war—albeit surveys that were limited by the politics of the Cold War. While both exhibitions concentrated on Expressionism, they included a sampling of postwar art from West Germany. Since these exhibitions functioned as mediums for cultural diplomacy (both were sponsored by the Federal Republic of Germany), the selection of postwar art bears further investigation. What message did the West German government hope to convey about post-Nazi art, and what kind of narrative about German modernism did it hope to establish? Further, what aesthetic and ideological impact did the 1955 exhibition Documenta I have on both exhibitions? McComas addresses the organizers’ motivations and the exhibitions’ critical reception based on her study of documents from both museums’ archives.


The GDR at the Biennale de Paris: Between Individual Subversion and National Representation
Julie Sissia, Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art de Paris

While officially invited since 1972, the GDR waited ten years before participating officially in the Biennale de Paris. In the meantime, East Berlin–artist Hans Brosch managed to short-circuit the official GDR institutions: in 1975 his abstract paintings were shown at that international, pluralist event, causing a small sensation on the French art scene. At the Biennale 1982, the GDR confronted other nations in a common exhibition space, not as a single country in a solo show. For this artificial nation, the participation crystallized the problem of legitimating itself on the international art scene in a “national,” “closed” way, inconsistent, in appearance, with the very philosophy of the Biennale de Paris. This paper aims at giving a first impression of the complexity and diversity of “the other Germany’s” art’s presence in France. On the basis of unpublished French and German archive material, Sissia shows how the presence of the GDR at the Biennale de Paris is symptomatic of a political and cultural détente but also of a turning point in the Western arts in the ‘80s, questioning the avant- gardes—not only in West Germany’s Neo-expressionism—and posing the question of a revival of nationalisms.


Ulrike Rosenbach: The German Feminist Art Movement
Kathleen Wentrack, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

The German artist Ulrike Rosenbach has received minor scholarly attention despite her prominent position as a crucial figure in the early feminist art movement in Europe and her wide exhibition history, which includes the Biennale des Jeunes (Paris, 1975), the “Künstlerinnen International” (Berlin, 1977), and the “Feministische Kunst Internationaal” (Amsterdam, 1978). Rosenbach took risks with her body in her video and performance art work, interrogating traditional images of women as well as accepted norms of female behavior. The artist studied under Joseph Beuys in the late 1960s, exhibited in shows curated by Lucy Lippard, and replaced Judy Chicago teaching video and performance art at CalArts in 1975. She noted how the American feminist art scene was an integral element of avant-garde art activity that she felt was missing in Germany. Back in Cologne, Rosenbach established the Schule für Kreativen Feminismus (The School for Creative Feminism) in 1976. This paper, therefore, develops connections to European and American contexts in which Rosenbach exhibited as a groundbreaking artist among early feminist art activities in her home country to provide a broader cultural and art historical understanding of feminist art in Germany.


Refracted Histories: Parody and Authorship in the Work of Martin Kippenberger
Natalie Dupêcher, Williams College

In a 1992 interview, Martin Kippenberger declared, “History is something you need to feel. […] Everybody cheered when the wall was pulled down. That’s the wrong way to handle history.” To begin our foray into the work of Kippenberger, we might begin with the follow-up that his interlocutor declined to pose: What’s the right way? How does Kippenberger’s work act upon history? Dupêcher proposes that one way of considering this relationship is through Kippenberger’s deployment of artistic parody in certain key works. This mirroring process, which ranged in tone from acerbic to contemplative, is itself a way of restaging of the past. In gesturing behind, Kippenberger demonstrates that revisiting history necessarily constitutes a history-making process. Kippenberger did not confine his exploration of temporality to particular works, however; it was present in his very mode of artistic creation. A bombastic, outsized personality in life, Kippenberger tended toward self-erasure in his art, diffusing his presence through studio assistants and a parodic return to the past. In denying the traditionally erected binary between the modernist myth of the artist-genius and the postmodern death of the author, Kippenberger’s work affirms the co-existence of heterogeneous temporalities.


The Void: The Relationship between Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin and Arnold Schoenberg’s Opera “Moses und Aron”
Meredith Mowder. The Graduate Centre, CUNY

Architect Daniel Libeskind’s winning design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin engages with the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish population of Berlin and Germany through the creation of a negative space, or void, in the building. Libeskind has stated that one inspiration behind his design for the museum is Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron. This paper explores how the content of this opera, its subject as fundamentally concerned with the void, or absence of God, informed Libeskind’s creation of the physical, architectural void in the museum. Beyond the subject of the opera and its relationship to the architecture, this paper also discusses the aesthetics of the music with regard to the building’s form. Further, the figure of Schoenberg, as an Austrian-Jewish composer directly impacted by the Holocaust, was crucial for Libeskind’s application of Moses und Aron as an organizational principle for the building. Libeskind’s use of Schoenberg’s opera and the architectural void relates directly to the political and cultural debates surrounding the construction of the museum in Berlin during the late 1980s and issues of collective memory in relation to the Nazi Past and the Holocaust.

Time: 10/18/2012, 3:30 PM—5:30 PM

Location: Durham Convention Center, Junior Ballroom C