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Walking Through Two Germanys

A.R. Penck, Der Übergang (Passage) (1963)

LACMA’s sprawling survey of postwar German art, “The Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures,” occupies — fills — the entire second floor of the Broad Contemporary. Arranged chronologically, in 11 galleries, it begins in the ’40s, before there were two Germanys, and ends in the ’90s, after the wall came down and the divided country became whole (or at least one) again. The show is a mixture of the renowned (Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke) and the utterly unknown, and offers an opportunity to see the former in socio-historical context, to discover the latter — new artists, new understandings — and to see all of this work in well-ordered juxtaposition.

The organizing mind behind the exhibition is LACMA senior curator Stephanie Barron, and on a recent afternoon she walked and talked me through the entire show. I’d heard a few complaints about all that heavy, male German painting — call it Imprussionism — and there are, quite literally, sausages and potatoes in the show. But we keep going back to war-time and post-war Germany for good reason, most often through historical texts, film and literature (e.g., The Reader), and as Barron notes, art has come late to the table. It’s fascinating, then, to see such a wide variety of artists dealing with such incredible issues — Nazism, authoritarianism, communism, cultural and personal division, displacement, isolation, reconciliation, freedom, all of these in life and artistic expression.

This is particularly so with those artists who came from the East, and all that meant, to the West, and all that meant. One such artist was Gerhard Richter. There is a well-known painting of his in the show called Onkel Rudi, a blurry image of the artist’s uncle in his German Wehrmacht uniform. It’s among the first works by an artist dealing with the Nazi past, an airing of the family’s (and country’s) laundry, dirty or otherwise. (Richter, a member of the Hitler Youth in his native Dresden before escaping to the West in 1961, wasn’t necessarily condemning his uncle Rudi, but perhaps simply saying, “This was how it was.”) The piece was also, you’ll learn from Barron’s simple, minimal texts, part of a Berlin exhibit in 1967 called “Homage á Lidice,” in honor of the Czech village of Lidice, destroyed, along with its innocent population, on Hitler’s personal order in retaliation for the killing of a favorite Nazi officer. Google Lidice and you’ll find the unbelievable story, lest we forget.

Not all is so dark in “Two Germanys.” There is Pop in the show, a little irony, and even some chocolate. But it is worth the effort just to see Onkel Rudi in as much context as is humanly possible on Wilshire Boulevard.

Note: The walk-through is long, the artworks many; we’ve included as many images as possible, but for an installation view of the show, visit www.lacma.org.

L.A. Weekly: Can you set this up a little bit? Where did this all start?

Barron: This is one of several exhibitions I’ve done on German art. I can’t say that from the beginning they were intended as a sequence. I’d like to think that my life is that organized, but it’s not. I think sometimes these things form a sequence when you look back on them, but there’s no question that the show in ’91 on degenerate art [“Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany”] seemed to flow into an exhibition about the exiles who were forced to leave Germany during the war and went to Europe and to the United States [“Exiles and émigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler,” 1997]. So that, in a way, this show picks up back in Germany at the end of the war in ’45, looking at the situation in the occupied and divided Germany.

What was your original interest in German art?

Frankly, like other graduate students, I studied French art. There were few places when I was in graduate school to study German art. It was only really when I moved to L.A., in the mid-’70s to work at LACMA. The first big show I did here was the Russian Avant-Garde show in 1980, which really again took me out of a kind of comfort zone of French art but was extraordinarily exciting to deal with new territory. Then I found that there was in fact — this is in the days before the Getty Library — that there was this amazing library, at that point a private library, in Los Angeles of German expressionism and original German material.

The Rifkind Collection?

Yes, it was one guy’s private collection [and is now the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies at LACMA]. In a way, I was drawn to that because it wasn’t an area that was being worked on a lot. Having come out of the Russian show and dealing with the teens and the ’20s it was a period that interested me a lot. My exposure to original material and looking at original periodicals of the time and catalogs and prints and stuff opened up a lot of different windows for me. The first German show I did was called “German Expressionist Sculpture” in 1982. As I traveled around Germany, most people seemed to feel that there wasn’t such a thing as German expressionist sculpture, but I kept digging and kept looking in museum basements and talking to people, and in fact, we did this rather amazing show of German expressionist sculpture.

 

Just the digging around for those kinds of things took me to museums to which I had never been. I had never done much traveling in Germany. So it was really new territory for me, and there weren’t a lot of other curators in America doing stuff like that. I’ve always been interested in that intersection, I think, of art and politics. Certainly I found it in the Russian show. I’ve also enjoyed bringing different mediums into exhibitions and not making shows that are primarily painting shows. So it’s really easy for me to include prints, photographs, film. I like doing shows that are more multidisciplinary. In other shows, I’ve often commissioned a filmmaker to do a film in the exhibition. To me that’s a natural way to bring people along in the storytelling, and I just think, Why not embrace that?

So here, in this show, which is organized chronologically, it was important for me to begin with film footage of Berlin and Dresden at the end of the war so that people really understood what the situation was like on the ground. I didn’t want narration, I just wanted something that was going to visually ground people in what it looked like.

There are a couple of things that I can reflect on now with the show having been up for some weeks that I’m not sure I anticipated. So many of the artists in this exhibition are unknown to people, and yet it’s art of our own time. I’ve been surprised at how much that interests people. There’s a real curiosity in learning about artists of our own time who have been unknown. The second thing is that though it’s an exhibition primarily under the banner of the Cold War with East and West Germany, unless you read the labels carefully, you don’t know who’s East and who’s West. Because so many of the artists East and West are not known, it’s a real leveling of the playing field. As I was doing the show I was very aware of who was East and who was West, but of course the visitor coming in doesn’t bring that knowledge. By not having red light, green light over the pictures or the sculptures, people really come in and look at it as art, which is ideally exactly what we would have wanted. I think people have been really blown away.

So you’re basically bridging the two countries and art communities.

It has neutralized, in an interesting way, the politics at the same time it’s opened up the discourse. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t realize quite how effective that would be in the presentation. I just knew that it was important in the labels because they all say where someone was born, where they live or where they died, and where they were active. Some people were active in East Germany, some were active in East Germany for a time and then moved to West Germany. I wanted the labels to be kind of quiet. There’s a lot to read in the show, but I didn’t want it to scream out at you with tons of text. I wanted it to feel like an art show, not a didactic lesson.

 

I think you succeeded. It feels almost like a permanent collection.

The first room deals with ’45 to ’49. Just about every artist in this room is going to be unknown except for the expressionist artists, who are picking up after the war. Certainly it’s not the greatest Hanna Höch painting [Trauernde Frauen (Mourning Women) (1945)], but it’s fascinating to see what this incredibly avant-garde artist from the teens and the ’20s was doing right after the war, and she’s picking up on what were called the rubble women, these women who were cleaning up after the destruction.

These are really rare, these Wilhelm Rudolph drawings that he did onsite in Dresden. They’re fantastic drawings. There was like a suite of about 100 that I chose from the print cabinet in Dresden.

Then these photographs by Richard Peter Sr. [from the series Dresden nach der Bombardierung vom 13./14. Februar 1945 (Dresden after the Bombing of February 13th/14th, 1945)], you can look at in a way only after seeing the film footage; then they become all the more astonishing. The other thing is from a U.S. point of view we’ve never much thought about what the situation was in Germany on the ground. I think our whole perspective has been one of thinking about the victims of the Holocaust, and then basically, yeah, we bombed the hell out of them at the end and ended the war. That’s been the way I think we’ve learned the story of the end of the Second World War, and that’s not to dispute it, but it’s to say that there’s another reality.

 

There were victims of that bombing.

If one thinks about the end of the war from a German point of view, it was one of death, destruction, famine and loss because fathers, brothers, uncles were all lost in the war. It was, shall we say, a shared tragedy and humiliation that was in a way unspoken. Because, given the extent of the Holocaust, it was never something the Germans could own in a public way. They couldn’t claim victim-ness.

 

No, because they were the bad guys.

They were the bad guys, but they were also, at the end, victims. It’s a very skittish line and it’s why only recently has there been more of an influx of literature dealing with the end of the war from the Germans’ point of view. You think about those Victor Klemperer diaries. If you think about W.G. Sebald writing about the destruction, that’s only come out in the last 15 years in Germany (and then it takes time to get translated). So it’s still a kind of murky area.

They’re still dealing with it now. In Berlin, there are the bullet-scarred buildings, the little museum kiosks everywhere, the Mauer (wall) museum, the streetside exhibition “The Topography of Terror” ...

The later generations of Germans have looked squarely at the war, but that’s a post-’68 dealing with it. If you speak to people in their 20s and their 30s, they have visited the camps, they really know a tremendous amount, yet [with] their parents or their grandparents, there was a silence about it. I find it very interesting as an American and as a Jew. It’s not been an area that, at least in visual culture, has been addressed much. It’s addressed much more in literature and in film.

Anyway, so this [Hans Grudig, Den Opfern des Faschismus (zweite Fass) (To the Victims of Fascism {Second Version}) (1946/9)] is a rare example then of a work right at the end of the war of an artist, who was not Jewish, addressing a work about the victims of the camps. He was in a labor camp, Sachsenhausen, as a political prisoner. His wife was Jewish. So this was his number and then he references the Jewish star. He did two versions of the painting, one with the star and one without. It’s one of the rare examples that actually directly confronts it.

It’s a beautiful piece. Where did you get it?

It’s from [the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden], and they never lend it. I have to say I got spectacular loans. That’s really the result of working in this field for 25 years and having people trust you. Otherwise it’s like, why are they going to send these things to L.A.?

How did you find all of these pieces?

You start, you travel, you look at books, you look at old catalogs. There were, for instance, starting right at the end of the war, a series of exhibitions that were done, all German exhibitions. They were done in Dresden. They were done in small towns in Germany. You begin to look at what was even put on show at the time. Then you travel, and you look, and you talk to people, and then you start begging for loans.

 

You have a German co-curator.

I have a German co-curator, Eckhard Gillen, which was terrific because he lives in Berlin. He knows a tremendous amount. He’s done exhibitions. He’s friends with lots of artists, and it was really helpful for me in terms of making me aware of a lot of artists whom I didn’t know, and then we would sift through it together. He was fascinated to see what worked for my sensibility, for what I thought would be for a U.S. sensibility and what I was interested in and what I wasn’t interested in.

This is interesting. [Werner Heldt, Tür (Door) (1946)] This guy Heldt was in Berlin. This is a piece he did on a door, which he just found, and the red is lipstick. Then you have artists who stayed in East Germany. Of course there is no East and West Germany in this room. It hasn’t happened yet. It’s an occupied country, occupied by the allies from ’45 to ’49. So it’s basically a country that has been divided by England, France, Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States. Berlin, of course, is divided into four sectors.

 

This artist, Gerhard Altenbourg, ended up staying in the East, and he did this amazing drawing on recycled paper, with children’s drawings [Ecce Homo 1 (Sterbender Krieger) (Ecce Homo 1 {Dying Warrior}) (1949)].

Were you familiar with any of the artists in this room?

I knew Altenbourg, actually, because I had been to that museum for a previous exhibition I had done in the East. I knew Heldt’s work. I did not know Rudolph, and obviously I knew Hanna Höch. I knew [Ernst Wilhelm] Nay’s work. I had seen a lot of it, but I had to look closely to tell a good work from a not-so-interesting work. I knew [Willi] Baumeister. But here’s a guy, no knowledge of this guy, [Juro] Kubicek [Berlin 1947]. So there’s this revisiting of a Dada sensibility. They’re searching around in the ’40s and what are they going to connect back to? The previous 12 years is nothing anybody wanted to connect to, the Nazi era, so do you go back to expressionism, do you go to Dada, do you go to new objectivity, do you go to abstraction? They’re searching. Here is a very interesting work by Fritz Winter [Triebkräfte der Erde (Sprouting Powers of the Earth) (1944)]. It’s at the end of the war. Now, the way most people talk about it, at the end of the war in the West you had abstraction, which is synonymous with freedom and democracy, and in the East you had realism, which was socialist realism and it was communism. Well, here’s Fritz Winter doing these kind of abstract works, but it’s called Sprouting Powers of the Earth, which has an uncomfortable ring of blood and soil. So they’re dodging around in and amongst what’s German in German art and they’re dodging in and around stuff that had also been percolating during the Nazi era. It’s fascinating.

One of the things I like about the exhibition is that it upends our preconceptions, and there is ambiguity. If I could feel that there are a couple of contributions the show would make, one is to bust open the familiar binaries. The other is to [challenge the belief] that all 20th-century German art is expressionist in nature. It’s also not all about painting. I think those are three things I hope that the show challenges.

This room [No. 2] was the hardest to install, and it has become, in a way, my favorite room just because you see all the threads right here. We’re now in the 1950s. You now have an East and a West, two different states, two different countries. You have the utopian East bringing together workers in this kind of intense activity to build up the city. [For example, Otto Nagel’s Junger Maurer (Mauerlehrling Wolfgang Plath), (Young Bricklayer {Apprentice Wolfgang Plath}) (1953)] We’ve seen the destruction in the previous room. Suddenly these Socialist Realist paintings, which have been the untouchable, you know, that’s the stuff that nobody ever really wanted to look at. Suddenly it doesn’t look quite so evil or threatening. You begin to look at it and you say, “Well, how different is this from some American art in the 1930s?”

I was going to say, what does this remind of? It looks like ...

Norman Rockwell. Some of it is a little bit more heroic than others, but it’s not the bogeyman everybody has kind of been making it out to be. That’s going on in the East. In the West you’ve got a number of artists finding a kind of existential abstract nothingness, if you will, looking to France to art that’s familiar. So you have works like this [Karl Otto Götz, 16.12.52 (1952)] or [Gerhard Hoehme, Essor en Décline (Progress in Decline) (1958)]. Then we have some things that kind of bust it open. My favorite is Herman Glöckner, who I didn’t know about and found while looking in Dresden in the ’80s [Hermann Glöckner, View of Installation of Glöckner objects as exhibited at LACMA, 2008].

Are these the secret pieces?

Yes. There was no unemployment in East Germany, so basically his job was doing little decorations on buildings, but this was his private work. I call them sketches, sculptural sketches. They’re not intended as maquettes for bigger works — but it’s keeping the brain nimble. It’s keeping the fingers nimble. Whether it’s made out of matchbooks or letters, wood, some of it comes out of constructivist sensibility. Some of it comes out of the Dada sensibility, and some of it’s just the sheer practicality of what materials are at hand whether it’s a laundry detergent box, eyeglasses, string, wire, coffeepot.

 

This was just in a box?

It was in this big cabinet. You opened the door and it was like almost falling out. I just thought, “I want to bring this to Los Angeles,” and what I love is that it totally upends the expectation. It was going on at the same time that this stuff is being made and it’s as powerful and as poignant and as experimental as one could be. It just confounds one’s expectations. By the same token, when you go to the West, there’s a painter like Konrad Klapheck, who, as most artists were working like this [expressionistically], takes these household objects, which are from the mid-’50s, and elevates them, puts them on these plain backgrounds and celebrates them [Der Wille zur Macht (The Will to Power) (1959) and Die gekränkte Braut (The Offended Bride) (1957)]. For him, this is like a male-female thing. Also if you look at the title of this, it’s called The Will to Power, which of course is a kind of perversion of Nietzsche. Certainly when it was made, this is 10 years after the end of the war, there’s no question that when people looked at these things [the keyboard] they saw the kind of formations you would see in Leni Riefenstahl films.

Is he reacting against the sort of expressionist work being done in West Germany?

Yes, he’s totally reacting against it. He said, “I’m not interested in that.”

Did he ever do any?

Yes, he did. I found some early material. He was born in ’35 so he’s not old. He’s in his late 20s when he’s doing this, so there’s kind of what I’d call student work that looks like [expressionism]. He did his first one of these in 1955.

It’s so wildly different from everything else we’re seeing.

I think photography is another really powerful part of the show. This is West German photography in the 1950s at the time of the so-called economic miracle, when it was infused by money from the Marshall Plan. Everybody suddenly was flush and buying all kinds of things. This guy Chargesheimermade this slightly critical photography in the 1950s, and again it’s really interesting [Beim Einkaufen (While Shopping) (1958)]. This is East German photography, same time.

This is an artist, Arno Fischer, who was doing a portfolio called Situation Berlin, which he started in the late ’50s and was planning to finish, but the wall went up in August 1961. Here’s the Kurfürstendamm in the West[Kurfürstendamm, West-Berlin (1957)] and here’s Stalin-Allee in the East. Fischer was looking at these comparisons, but wasn’t able to finish it so it was never published.

Then we have some of the approved, official artists in the East. People like Willi Sitte [Massaker II (Massacre II) (1959)]. It’s not a great painting by any stretch, but it shows that some of these artists were looking to Picasso. Picasso was okay to look at because he was a communist. So he would be able to be reproduced in the East German art period, whereas the other main figures of modernism would not be. These, I call Penck before Penck. This is really early work.

How well-known was Penck?

Penck was actually pretty well-known, but not in the ’50s. He was known in the ’70s and he didn’t leave until 1980, but he was showing in the ’70s. Now we’re in the late ’50s, early ’60s. So again, another film clip to show the economic miracle in the West and just to kind of give an idea of what that felt like.

[Moving into room No. 3.] This room is all West, and we have artists who are part of something called the Zero Group. They’re kind of pushing the envelope of new technologies. It’s artists like Otto Piene [Zur Geschichte des Lichts (On the History of Light) (1958-9)], Günther Uecker [Das gelbe Bild (Yellow Painting) (1958) and TV auf Tisch (TV on Table) (1963)], who did the nails, and who’s basically attacking, literally, consumer objects. We have some single-channel video over there in which he actually goes through a field of the nails and he’s hammering them into the fields almost as if he’s sowing it with seeds. It’s absolutely beautiful.

So again, Fluxus video is part of this whole scene in Germany early on, whether it’s [Joseph] Beuys, or Nam June Paik, who was there. These are all 1964. These are all early happenings. Fluxus really began in Germany. The Chocolates and the literary sausage is Dieter Roth, who chose food and organic material to make his art out of. [Roth’s sausages are made of chopped-up books by authors he didn’t like.]

 

Those are absolute genius.

The whole notion of it is just fantastic. Then the Chocolate Lion Tower has about 1,800 pounds of chocolate. Each one of these came in its own little box.

This is re-created? How did that happen?

We contacted the artist’s estate and we paid for the fabrication of this to be used for this exhibition.

It smelled good the night I was here, but then I read Christopher Knight’s piece in the L.A. Times ...

Christopher thought it was revolting. It’s a little much. When we were installing it I ended up having to go buy this huge box of chocolate for the guys who were installing.

[Wolf] Vostell is somebody who’s not well-known enough at all, I think, in the United States, very political. One often thinks of him or talks about Rauschenberg in the same breath sometimes, but he’s really, really political. He’s anti-West, anti-American [B-52 (“Lippenstiftbomber”) (B-52 {Lipstick Bomber}) (1968) and Coca-Cola (1961)].

This room (No. 4), is one of my favorites because you just feel this energy and this excitement. We’re not playing by rules anymore, and you realize after the room we came through first of all how international [it’s become]; suddenly now there’s a discourse. They’re not only looking to a German past, but American artists are being seen. We’re basically in the mid-’60s here. Zero Group is like ’59 to ’60, so this room is all ’60s. You see an influence of Pop Art, which in Germany got kind of twisted into something called Capitalist Realism. So an artist like Konrad Lueg [Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1966)], who became the dealer Konrad Fischer, did these works using shower curtains. Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke were among the artists showing in this style of so-called Capitalist Realism. So we reconstructed this installation that Richter did. It was a 24-hour installation celebrating this guy called Volker Bradke, who was just some guy who came and hung around with him, so in a very Warholian way. Basically Bradke gets his 15 minutes. He gets one of [Richter’s] blurry photo paintings, a bunch of photos and this equally boring blurry film.

So there are more jokes now.

There’s irony. There is no irony in the East, but there’s definitely irony in the West. Polke, early Polke, this is one installation and to his specifications, and it’s these 12 paintings on this lattice work [Fünftziger Jahre, Die (The Fifties) (1963-69)].

In this order?

In this order, yeah. He likes it. The museum that it comes from tends to do it much more vertically and he didn’t like it, so he asked us to do it this way. It’s a great piece called The Fifties. It’s a piece he worked on during the ’60s. It kind of goes then with this Potato House, which is a kind of riff, if you will, on every German [having] the little garden cottages, but it’s attached with these potatoes, which of course was the staple during the war. And then this other one, LBJ and Mao as the potato heads, which may be one of my favorite paintings in the show [Kartoffelköppe, Mao & LBJ (Potatoheads, Mao & LBJ) (1965)]. Mao was a big topic of this time, of course. This is a work by Thomas Bayrle [Mao (1966)], which every 30 minutes goes on for about a minute and a half, and it flips and it becomes a red star. There was a sense of humor. There was sense of experimentation. There was a sense of fun, pushing the envelope, which I think you really feel in the ’60s.

The next room we’re going to go into, which is also the ’60s, this is the room where artists are coming to terms with Germany’s past. It happened in great part because of the Auschwitz Trials. If you’ve seen The Reader, the trial that takes place in that film was modeled on the Auschwitz Trials, a series of trials that went on between 1963 and 1965. Twenty-two guards, ordinary people who went back to ordinary lives but who during the war had been guards in the camps, were put on trial. It’s hard for us to imagine that it took 20 years for Germans to address the war, but we just have to remember that after the war — with the humiliation, with the defeat — nobody wanted to talk about it. These trials went on over two years; they were reported every day in the newspapers, people’s names were there, hundreds of people witnessed them, hundreds of people testified. It was only then that it became part of people’s awareness.

 

So imagine if you had been born in the ’40s and you’re reading about these trials and you’re 22, 23. What’s the first thing you’re going to do? You’re going to go home and say to you parents, “And where were you?” So what it provoked among that generation was this sense of outrage at the parent generation for having followed Hitler, having lost the war, having led to Germany’s humiliation and all of that. What it did then is it fueled the student movement, which you have in ’68 and then it took a kind of twisted turn in Germany toward the terrorists, theBaader-Meinhof gang. From a historical point of view, the ’60s really bleed right into the ’70s, so it’s kind of one big section in the exhibition. You have to understand a little bit about the history, but it’s quite fascinating.

It’s only in the ’60s then that artists now start to acknowledge the anger toward the earlier generation. Of course for many of them it’s not the Holocaust they’re imaging or reflecting, it’s German military history.

Right, which represents ...

Which is this. Exactly. [Wolf Vostell’s Hommage á Lidice (Homage to Lidice) (1958) and Richter’s Onkel Rudi (Uncle Rudi) (1965)] Both of these were shown in an exhibition in 1967 in Berlin called “Hommage á Lidice,” because word had finally then spread about the Nazi massacre, the annihilation of the Czech village of Lidice. A gallerist in Berlin, René Block, put on this exhibition called “Hommage á Lidice” and invited artists to either create new work or send in existing work, so both of these pieces were shown in that original ’67 exhibition. Vostell leaves little to the imagination. The Richter is a very famous picture, but you read it in a different way in this context, and it’s fascinating that both of these [works] are still to this day owned by the memorial in Lidice.

If you look around this room, just at a glance there are only three artists who did not come from the East, [Markus] Lüpertz, [Anselm] Keifer and [Bernhard] Heisig. So again, here’s where that preconception just falls by the wayside. Richter came from the East. [Georg] Baselitz came from the East. Penck came from the East. [Eugen] Schönebeck, who was a very close friend of Baselitz, they both left the East, went to West Berlin and they did a show and published a manifesto called The Pandemonium Manifesto in which they argued for return to expressionism. They were trying to connect back to that earlier German painting, and in a way that fueled the nomenclature, if you will, of Neo-Expressionism. This is actually the original manifesto [Georg Baselitz, Eugen Schönebeck, Pandämonium I Manifest – 1. Version (Pandemonium I Manifesto – 1st Version) (1961-2)].

Here’s a Baselitz painting. It’s called Picture for the Fathers. It’s a pretty gruesome picture and it’s, again, about this challenging of the father generation. Schönebeck, he fell by the wayside. He and Baselitz were really close, worked closely together and then Baselitz’s star took off and Schönebeck just kind of got left behind, and he stopped painting. He still lives in Berlin and he’s an amazing man. He was an amazing painter.

This is early Penck, it’s just the perfect Cold War picture. You’ve got the East and the West. It’s a painting called World View from the early ’60s. Remember, he didn’t leave Dresden and the East until 1980, so he was caught between two worlds. You read this now a little differently after seeing the Uncle Rudi picture, and this is Schönebeck [Majakowski (Mayakovski) (1965)].

That’s such a beautiful painting [of Mayakovski].

It’s an amazing picture. Kippenberger, we’re talking about Kippenberger [and Schönebeck’s influence on him]. It’s a really interesting painting.

This one here is Lüpertz [Helm I (Helmet I) (1970)], and again, it’s a picture about the military and the loss of honor and the destruction. It’s only the next generation, which is Kiefer, who begins to then reference the Holocaust. This [opposing] wall are all the artists who stayed in the East, dealing with some of the same topics. While in the West there was this notion of “de-Nazifying” the former Nazis in the ’50s, that didn’t happen in East Germany because the sense was the whole country was founded on a kind of antifascism so that there weren’t Nazis there.

So there wasn’t quite as much angst in a way.

There wasn’t as much angst and there wasn’t the same sense of guilt. But these works by [Werner] Tübke [Lebenserinnerungen des Fr. Jur. Schulze III (Reiminiscinces of Schulze, JD III) (1965)], again one of the more celebrated of the official artists, take a kind of more metaphorical way. Here he comes up with this imaginary judge called Dr. Schulze, who presides over this garden of unearthly delights with all of these references to the camps and the torture and the Nazi uniforms — in a more coded way. It’s not as in your face, because that would not have been acceptable, and [he was] still criticized for doing this in the East. Or someone like [Wolfgang] Mattheuer [Kain (Cain) (1965)], who uses the biblical story of Cain and Abel to reference the ...

 

... the East-West .?

Yeah, exactly. But, again, they have to find other ways than being super direct. So it just kind of challenges our preconceptions.

[Heading into room 6.]

This is a big show!

Well, it’s two countries, two art histories, close to 50 years. It’s a lot, and it’s trying to make it into a comprehensible exhibition so it’s hard. Beuys is certainly one of the most celebrated of the postwar figures, and, in a way, one thinks of him now as not only just a maker of objects but really someone who was so involved in kind of social action. This, for instance, [Joseph Beuys, Ausfegen (Sweeping Up) (1972-85)] is a sweeping up after a May Day celebration in West Berlin in 1972. So we have a video of the sweeping up and then this is the detritus that was collected. I think by having the video, one begins to understand him as a social motivator, these social sculptures. Then on the other side is this almost size-specific work by Thomas Schütte [Große Mauer (Large Wall) (1977)], very early work, when he was still a student of Gerhard Richter’s. It’s like they’re little Richter paintings and they sit rather precariously on these two little pins. From a distance it looks like this great wall.

Beautiful.

Beautiful, beautiful piece. So continuing in the ’60s and ’70s, Baselitz, [Jörg] Immendorff, Penck. Some of the Baselitz hero pictures again, dealing with soldiers wandering around at the end of the war trying to kind of find a kind of new land. These are Penck sculptures when he was still in Dresden from the early ’70s, working with found materials as well. It’s fascinating from looking around that the abstract work in this room comes from the East, which again, is not what one would expect. These are Glöckner’s, our guy from several rooms ago, 1975, pretty beautiful.

A close friend of his in Dresden was Achim Freyer, who is now in Los Angeles directing The Ring. He was a visual artist in Dresden. So when I installed this, he came to me and he said, “Oh, I love you. You put me back next to my friend Glöckner.” Somebody came to me the night of the opening and said, “Oh, [Glöckner] must have been looking at Agnes Martin.” I said, “Not only didn’t he know Agnes Martin, [but] he’d never seen [her work].” He said, “Well, he could have seen it in Art Forum.” I said, “He would have been imprisoned for having a copy of Art Forum! This is an early [Jörg] Immendorff, which was quite political, and here he’s taking on Vostell as an artist [Deutsche Künstler: Vostell (German Artists: Vostell) (1975)].

Making fun of him.

Exactly, the same piece that we saw in the other room. Here is a Hans Haacke installation. We’ll have a different one at the German venues. He’s the only artist who lives in the States who’s in the exhibition. He’s German. He obviously has a practice that kind of is in both countries and this was kind of an antiwar piece. He asked that when this piece is displayed in the United States we use a photo blow-up of a U.S. antiwar demonstration. If it’s in Germany you can do a German one.

Fair enough.

Now we’re into the one wall with photography from the late ’70s, but otherwise basically the ’80s, where artists are kind of relooking at fascism, very differently from the way it was done in the ’60s. There’s a different edge to the work. This is an installation by Raffael Rheinsberg [Hand und Fuß (Hand and Foot) (1980)] who found in the 1970s, in an abandoned West Berlin railway station, the shoes and gloves from prisoners who would be taken to labor camps. He collected them and turned them into an installation in the 1980s.

We’ll segue to the photography which could have been in an earlier gallery. It’s kind of late ’70s. So the Bechers, of course, so well known [Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gas Tanks (1970)], but these are works by some of their early students, so Candida Höfer. This is from a portfolio she made about Turkish guest workers. Or early Thomas Struth, and again the ambiguity of — other than the Volkswagen — was this East, was this West? [Thomas Struth, Friedrich-Engels-Straße, Leverkusen (1980)]. And then this marvelous Thomas Ruff portfolio; though it’s from the ’70s the interiors are all these ’50s, ubiquitous German interiors [Thomas Ruff, Interierur 13B (Interior 13B) (1980)]. Like I said, terrorist activity was pretty prevalent. Kidnappings, the assassinations provoked someone like Jürgen Klauke in the West to do this series, which he began in the ’70s and continued until 2000 of these kind of anonymous terrorists, these photographs of anonymous terrorists. [Jürgen Klauke, Antlitze (Faces) (1972-2000)]

 

Lutz Dammbeck is an artist from the East, who then went to Hamburg, combines images from photographs of Hitler’s favorite artist, Arno Breker, the sculptor, and he sews them together with images of leaders from the Baader-Meinhof gang in these kind of iron frames, a very powerful piece [Lutz Dammbeck, Nibelungen (Nibelung) (1986-88)]. This room is what I call the underground scene in the East in the 1980s. Look at the works of the Dresden group, called the Autoperforationists. They would do hours and hours of performances. We have the videos from them. We have black-and-white photographs and what they called the utensils from the performances.

This piece in the middle of the room is by Via Lewandowsky [Gefrorene Glieder brechen leicht (Frozen Limbs Break Easily) (1989)]. It could be almost a metaphor for the two Germanys. You have this Janice figure attached to this body, where one leg is fettered, the other unfettered, and the figure is almost running into a knife. It sits teetering on this contraption that is unstable and filled with rocks from destroyed Dresden.

Photography, again, is strong in the East. Artists were able to work a little more privately doing photography. One of the strongest, I think, is Gundula Schulze Eldowy [Lothar, Berlin 1982 and Lothar, Berlin 1983]. This is a series of work she did about [a postal worker] called Lothar, and when she asked to photograph him he said, “Fine, but in addition to this photograph I want you to come home and take my photograph in my flat,” and he insisted upon posing [nude]. It’s a pretty wacky interior. This is a photograph of a child getting an X-ray [Ohne Titel, Dresden 1990 (Untitled, Dresden 1990)]. It’s a really tough photo, but she’s very good.

There aren’t a whole lot of women in the show.

Well, this room has a lot. Gundula, Evelyn Richter, Maria Sewcz, Helga Paris, Barbara Metselaar-Berthold. The women photographers in the East ...

... are happening.

Totally. Totally. This is kind of the East German Nan Goldin: Helga Paris. Photographs over here by Sibylle Bergemann [Ohne Titel (Berlin), (Untitled {Berlin}) (1986) and Ohne Titel (Gummlin), (Untitled {Gummlin}) (1984)]. So a lot of women in this room.

Then the last room is all West. Postmodernism never happened in the East, but it of course happened in the West. Martin Kippenberger [Zwei Proletarische Erfinderinnen auf dem Weg zum Erfinderkongreß (Two Proletarian Women Inventors on Their Way to the Inventor’s Congress) (1984)], Rosemarie Trockel [Ohne Titel (Untitled) (1987)], and then a combination of Isa Genzken [Tür (Door) (1988)] and Richter [November (1989)]. Then the very last work is a video by Marcel Odenbach from the West, who happened to be in Leipzig in the East when the wall came down. So he just did this video [Niemand ist mehr dort wo er hinwollte (No One is Where They Intended to Go) (1989-90)], where he almost collages images of people going back and forth across the wall and just what was going on at the time. It makes a nice counter in a way to the historical footage at the beginning of the exhibition.

The exhibit will be at the Broad Contemporary through April 19.

Click here for an installation slide show.


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