Visual Arts

A new generation of German painters

Have East and West German artists grown any closer together after the collapse of the GDR? We visited three young artists in their 30’s. Realistic painting, figurative painting which is the form most associated with Socialism, is now 13 years in the past. In the West free formulations and abstract art were associated with artistic freedom.

Today we are experiencing a return to painting, above all to realistic painting. One even speaks of a renaissance of realism among painters of the new generation.

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At one level painting is no more than a designated category. If, at the present time, there is a general trend back to painting, especially in its figurative treatment, then this has a definite value associated with the medium. It is this that we have set out to observe among our three young painters who are in their 30’s. Undeniably in all of German centres there is a return to figurative painting which by no means is a German phenomenon. While at one time in the West abstract painting was seen as an expression of artistic independence the painters in former East Germany were bound to realism. But even so the state could not achieve its aim of binding artists to socialist realism.

Whoever chose not to work in a traditional and representational manner could not work publicly. That means they could not exert any influence on any other artistic centre in Germany Now 13 years after the collapse of the East German regime these conditions and constraints have been forgotten.

The Leipzig School, which under the conditions of the GDR, laid the groundwork for technical perfection and draftsmanship still carried enormous weight. But its graduates could follow their pursuits only by making adjustments and making sure they did not contradict the state doctrine.

The return to painting and especially to representational painting may be a consequence of photography and video or it may be a counter move to the dominance of conceptual art. Artists are no longer theorising about their work but deal with it figuratively. In many cases their interests are a result of the immediacy of the medium and the fact that it can be so subjective. In a society setting its standards in objectivity such a stance is sympathetic in that it can be seen as a tangible comment.

This also answers the question as to how the arts look after the effect and results of the division of Germany. While factory workers in East go on strike to gain the same wages as their West German colleagues the same issues do not apply to the artists. Economic problems do not really beset them, their concerns are more are the frictions of social conditions which apply in an extended and altered form to the whole nation and have done so for the last 13 years.

The young 30 year olds in our film possibly belong to the first ‘all German’ generation. For them, who have grown up in both German states, the division of Germany is already becoming history.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2004
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