Coinciding with the much-discussed LACMA exhibition (see below; eventually traveling to Nuremberg and Berlin), curator Stephanie Barron and Lutz Koepnick chaired a session on Art of the Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures…
Claudia Mesch argued against the cliched position that each of the two Germany was devoted to a single style, “dutifully imported from its corresponding superpower”; i.e., Socialist Realism in the DDR and abstraction in the BRD. She highlighted the Western tradition of critical realism, precisely positioning the figurative work of Baselitz and Schoenebeck, caught between the Scylla of the Western celebrity icon and the Charybdis of the Eastern socialist icon. Later, linking the post-1973 crisis in the economy to a parallel crisis in the working class at the level of representation in painting, she found B. & S.’s colleagues Johannes Grützke and Wolfgang Mattheuer continuing the model of the realistically critical artist. Mattheuer took aim at the worker-hero, and Grützke at the middle-class consumer.
April Eisman followed the political and aesthetic twists and turns of Bernhard Heisig’s early East German career, leading up to his eventual role representing the DDR in Documenta, Venice, et al. Reviewing the debates on formalism of 1948 and 1951 and the repercussions of post-Khrushchev, post-Wall state repositioning, she destroyed any simplistic idea of East Germany as a land of socialist realism. Artists and commissars engaged in a good deal of back-and-forth about the right relations between artist, style and socialist public. Heisig’s Hotel Deutschland murals were seen by functionaries as a troublesome “invasion of modernism,” but both sides did agree on the need to properly educate the public.
Jess Atwood-Gibson treated Duesseldorf’s Zero Group, arguing against the view of Mack, Piene and Uecker as simply affirmative and politically disengaged. She reviewed a number of examples of the group’s zippy detournement of the techniques of spectacle — a billboard, hand stamps, an alarm clock punning on Zero and “Stunde Null” — before interpreting this not only as an attitude toward capitalism, but also (boldly!) as a displacement of the political aesthetics of the socialist East. This was followed by a treatment of the problems of individual vs. group artistic models, and Documenta capo Werner Haftmann’s extreme reluctance to include the group in the 1964 show on account of his zealous anti-collectivist ideology. Haftmann finally relented and included them, but only with a “passive-aggressive wall label” blaming their inclusion on co-organizer Arnold Bode.
Colin Lang considered the case of Imi Knoebel’s 1968 sculpture Room 19. Knoebel had come out of Darmstadt with a Bauhaus-style background in design by modules — foreign both to the norms of the Duesseldorf academy and the particularities of Joseph Beuys’s pedagogy. So Knoebel and Imi Giese took over the (literal) Room 19, an annex to Beuys’s class, as a space in which to creatively recharge from the strain of dealing with Beuys and his student throng. The modular, reconfigurable wood piece works not only as an example of the deductive structure [cf. Stella, Buren - often ostensibly de-auraticized], but also as an example of the architecture of memory [hence, very auratic indeed!].