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Amazon Inspire Digital Educational Resources. Amazon Rapids Fun stories for kids on the go. ComiXology Thousands of Digital Comics. DPReview Digital Photography. East Dane Designer Men's Fashion. Shopbop Designer Fashion Brands. Vitus' s dance. And yet I can never succeed " 4 Polke's painting evokes the Mephistopheltan theme that even today comes to mind ivhen the virtuoso's name is men- tioned, a theme that in the painting metamorphoses into a number of visual contexts and formulations as in a dissonant visual version of musical theme and variation.
If the work can be said to contain or refer to a dramatic situation, we might conclude that Paganini, whose pillowed head marks the virtual center point of the canvas, is being serenaded by the entity or power with which he made his legendary pact. Whether on his death bed or merely dreaming, Paganini seems to be enjoying himself; his raised hands suggest he is keeping time with the music, perhaps even directing the grotesque performer beside him. Paganini here is an emblem for the idea of the artist who traffics with strange powers, a person who controls those pow- ers but whose destiny may be ruled by them.
There are three primary constellations of imagery in the painting: first, the mythology of the Faust ian pact; second, the Ibid.
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Paradox and l'. The swastika is central to the painting's agitated, purposeful sense of play, a motif both bidden and overt which challenges the viewer to a game of textual hide-and-seek, indeed, to a sort of metaphysical treasure hunt. A symbol common to Christian and Hindu iconography, as well as to that of the Buddhist, Mayan and Navaho, it is generally taken to represent strength and prosperity.
For our time, of course, a considerable irony lies in the fact that this primordial symbol of beneficent power was turned by the Nazis into a quintessential sign of moral and physical evil. The network of reference in the paint- ing is omnipresent and complex, ranging from the blatant swastika outlined in the lower right corner to the much smaller one in Paganini's water glass, or in the flame of his bedside candle, or stamped on the figures in the lower left.
The symbol marks the eyes of Pagan in i himself and those of a barely visible torso to the right of the death's-head juggler. In using the symbol and thus evoking a set of dire associa- tions, Polke may be suggesting that which seems benign and restorative in one period has the capacity to change, even to the point of maleficence, in another.
And if such power is inherently unstable, then what about the power of art and the artist's own experience and use of that power? The contradic- tory implicatons of the symbol lead to the contradictory nature of the artist, whom the Romantics sometimes saw as a brilliant overreacher, someone enviably but often dangerously in touch with the Sublime. Creation involves the knowledge of destruction, of death itself. To create, the artist must be open to all possibilities, including the possible loss of self and soul.
Such is the signifi- cance of the traditional notion, virtually a cliche, of the artist's diabolical bargain — Faust's with Mepbistopbeles, to begin with, but also Paganini's with the devil. The risk measures the daring of the quest and the value of the dreamt-of reward. Paradigm Figurative painting was the critical issue that introduced the s. As the decade began, the modernist paradigm, in retreat since the s, appeared to have been finished off in America by the Conceptual and Minimal strategies of the s and 70s.
The international center-stage was now being claimed by an aggressive European representationalism that displayed all the superficial characteristics of historicizing mimeticism that modernism was thought to have laid to rest decades ago. The critical controversy that exploded around this new work gener- ated a succession of critical repartees that had audiences on both sides of the Atlantic eagerly awaiting the latest develop- ments. In Europe the discussion was framed by curators and critics on several levels simultaneously: in terms of aesthetic values; as a revolt against an American cultural hegemony of the postwar era; and, perhaps more sensationally, in Germany in terms of the propriety of an art with a national identity, one that engaged and exorcised the demons associated with fascism and Nazi domination.
On a broader critical plane, at issue was nothing less than the shape and direction of the epistemological structure that informed both art-making and the role of art criticism. While the death of painting had been predicted since the birth of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, no one, to para phrase Douglas Crimp's observation, had been entirely willing to execute the death warrant. The phenomenological potential of paint and canvas proved to be resilient enough to sustain the detailed inquiries of abstraction, Surrealism, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and various fertile cross-combinations within the boundaries of the modernist enterprise well into the post- war era.
But with reductivist and perceptual strategics dominating the s, painting's terminal condition finally seemed impossible to avoid. Even under the protective wing of a postmodern pluralism, the vitality of painting was difficult to sustain. If the outcome of the modernist endeavor was the exhaustion to the point of extinction of the formal possibilities for artistic expression, painting was the principal casualty. The devalorization of modernism had nevertheless created a condition that was alternately seen, in the late s, as the end of art or the herald of a new postmodernism free from the tyranny of the modernist hegemony and available to a new language of critical reference.
The closure suggested by Minimalist and Conceptual Art at the end of the s was forestalled by various recombinative strategies in the s, but none with the power to establish that new frame of refer- ence. What was lacking was a convincing coda and interpretive framework based on an interplay between a vital and authentic contemporary art, on the one hand, and a criticism that pro- vided a theoretical location for it, on the other.
The poststruc- turalist literary discourse in the s had established the im- minency of such a development, but its promise had so far been unable to deliver a viable mediation between its theoretical potential and the various manifestations in the practical world of contemporary art.
Thomas Lawson's description of the di- lemma that artists faced at the end of the s and beginning of the 1 s effectively captures the characteristics of the situa- tion of art-making adrift from an effective critical context. They can dabble in "pluralism," that last holdout of an exhausted modernism, choosing from an assortment of attrac- tive labels — Narrative Art, Pattern and Decoration, New Im- age, New Wave, Naive Nouveau, F. Or, more frankly engaged in exploiting the last manneristic twitches of modern- ism, they can resuscitate the idea of abstract painting.
Or, taking a more critical stance, they can invest their faith in the subversive potential of those radical manifestations of modem art labeled Minimalism and Conceptualism. But what it these, too, appear hopelessly compromised, mired in the predictabil- ity of their conventions, subject to an academicism or a senti- mentality every bit as regressive as that adhering to the idea of Fine Art? Another was the scale and dimension of the German situation. The claims being made for the new German painting, particu- larly for an art that indulged figurative convention, as "the true home for radical art today," 2 to use Donald Kuspit's words, depended on a sophisticated manifestation with an authenticity and presence that was confirmed by its own accumulated his- tory — which is what the new German painting possessed.
In other words, the special circumstances of a postmodern paradigmatic shift required an engagement between an authen- tic art and a credible critical reference. But as long as the dominating critical reference placed conditions before an art that denied it a priori a meaningful context, most practical strategies, in Lawson's words again, would "appear hopelessly compromised, mired in the predictability of their conventions, subject to an academicism or a sentimentality every bit as re- gressive as that adhering to the idea of Fine Art," 3 in short, a prisoner of its own self-consciousness.
The new German painting was important precisely because if it were to be "the true home for radical art," as its advocates claimed, it could do so only if a new-modern paradigm, with a critical language and frame of reference grounded in a histori- cal relevance, were able emerge to describe it. The crucial pre- condition for the new paradigm would be the resolution of the dilemma posed by the exhaustion of modernism, on the one hand, and the need to have the art of the present confirmed in the same terms as the art of the past, on the other.
The new German painting used history and presence to challenge the structure of contemporary art-history. It was finally the de- mands of this critical adjustment that placed the issue of figura- tive painting in such sharp relief. If modernism was originally rooted in artistic intuition, its development had been accompanied by the evolution of an acute critical consciousness vis-a-vis the nature of art that was expressed in a history of art formulated in strict and demand- ing terms, and it had come to enjoy existence dominated by its explicit history.
The exhaustion of the modernist enterprise in art was predicated on the inherent and finite possibilities for formal expression, not on the inherent and infinite abilities of a discourse to provide a rationalization. The exhaustion of mod- ernism did not erase the need for a critical structure to provide a historical rationale that had come to be expected from the formalist critique.
The problem was essentially an art-histori- cal one, but dependent on the spontaneous appearance of a mode of expression worthy of engagement, an art with the power to establish its presence in advance of and independent from its critical framework. It was the unusual combination of 2. Kuspit, Donald B. Louis Art Museum St. Louis and Munich, : Phenomenon Although German figurative painting swept the international scene at the end of the s and in the early s, one of its distinctive features, in fact the foundation of its success, was a history in practice that went back to the s.
By virtue of its lateral and chronological reach, the new German painting enjoyed a reputation for authenticity exempting it from the ontological anxiety that came with various postmodern "strategies" trapped in the highly self-conscious context of art- making in New York in the s. Hodicke and Bernd Koberling for almost two decades, and the work of Konrad Klapheck, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke featured figurative elements for even longer.
Figurative painting was contained within Germany for most of the s and s, largely unknown to an international audience, but nevertheless informed by, and placed in opposi- tion to, the attitudes of the international avant-garde.
Abstract Expressionism, introduced to Berlin in in an exhibition at the Hochschule der Kiinste, corroborated Art Informel and led to the entrenchment of Tachisme in Germany, it provoked a resistance based in a strong tradition of German realism going back to the early part of the century. Berlin provided the con- text for various new kinds of figurative and representational art known for example as Critical Realism, Dramatic Realism, a term that was first used to describe the work of Baselitz and Schonebeck in the early s or Richter's and Polke's ironic Capitalist Realism.
Baselitz and Schonebeck produced the Pan- d'dmonium manifesto in , but not until and the ex- hibition of the large painting The Great Friends at the Galerie Springer, was Baselitz recognized as a progenitor of bold con- trarian ideas. Liipertz, Hodicke, Koberling and twelve other younger artists working in figurative or realist modes estab- lished the Galerie Grossgorschen 35 in , which took its place in a vigorous and adventurous gallery structure that pro- vided the backdrop for exhibitions of American Pop Art, Fluxus events, Beuys performances, the German group ZERO and other Minimal and constructivist manifestations.
Despite the richness of the German context in Berlin and Dusseldorf, it was not until the end of the s that the international profile of German figurative painting began to change — rapidly and dramatically. In Rudi Fuchs pre- sented Baselitz's recent work abroad at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, an exhibition called Ugly Realism appeared at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, and Nicholas Serota organized a show of Lupertz's still-life paintings for Whitechapel and an exhibition of Baselitz sculpture with Max Beckmann paintings the following year.
Inspired by the interests ot Serota and Norman Rosenthal, and through them the German curator Christos Joachimides, London continued to play a leading role in stimulating international interest in new figurative painting. Paul Maenz introduced the Miihllieimer Freiheit to the art world at his gallery in Cologne, and exhibitions of this group were followed up the next year in Sweden and Freiburg. The first major international museum success for this "new" art came in 1 with the exhibition entitled A New Spirit in Painting organized by Joachimides, Rosenthal and Serota for the Royal Academy; eleven German painters dominated the cast of thirty-eight artists from six countries selected for the exhibition.
Of the forty-five artists shown in Berlin, twenty-two were German, and but for Beuys, all of them primarily painters. Penck, Liipertz and Kiefer at the Saint Louis Art Museum in , followed by Origen y vision: Nueva pintura alemana at the Palacio Velazquez in Madrid in , the meteoric rise of German figurative painting to international prominence was established as an indisputable if nevertheless controversial fact. Despite, or, perhaps more accurately, because of its promi- nence on the international scene, the new German figurative art was "fiercely opposed right from the start," as Kuspit de- scribed it in his accounting of the critical debate that unfolded in its wake.
Its timing was crucial. In the broadest possible sense, the popular success of German figurative painting intersected with the crisis prompted by the subsidence of the power of the modernist paradigm. Had the critical framework for contemporary art not been under attack at the very time that this mode of representational picture- making appeared in force on the international scene not as a new manifestation as much as a discovery or rediscovery in an expanded context of what was heretofore regarded as a region- al or backward art , it is unlikely that either critics or artists would have felt as vulnerable to the challenge that figurative painting presented at the beginning of the s.
In short, the rapid rise to prominence of the new German art crystallized issues that lay at the foundation of contemporary artistic and critical discourse. The question of the validity of figurative modes of expression at the end of the twentieth century could not be considered outside the province of critical inquiry; Ger- man figurative painting was the territory for debate. The rules of engagement were less specific, involving, as they did, a dis- cussion whose range was perhaps as important as its various conclusions, for its tenor and stridency contributed in no small way to the stature and significance of the new figurative work.
The principal contestants in the international critical debate were Kuspit and Benjamin Buchloh, the former by virtue of his persistent attention to the topic, the latter on the strength ot a penetrating Marxist critique. Kuspit and Buchloh demand par- ticular attention because they both understood the implications ot an exhausted modernism and its central importance to art historical discourse.
While Kuspit appeared to be the en thusiast and Buchloh the cynic in their writing on German painting, in reality their positions were reversed. In the face ot the modernist collapse, Buchloh argues idcahstically tor an open-ended conception of the dialectic. Pointing to examples in the history of art in the twentieth century, he claims that the current exhaustion ot an inherently subversive modernist at- titude was a recurring event. In a true Hegelian sense, there- fore, the posssibility of a continuous series of oppositions was theoretically limitless.
His concept of art is not bounded by the finite conventions of a material world. It is predicated on the notion of intuitive challenge as a necessary condition of exis- tence.
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Kuspit, on the other hand, also saw the end of modern- ism and believes we inhabit a world of limited artistic conven- tions. His longing for tangible objectness cannot accommodate the dilemma posed by an immaterial concept of radicality. Kus- pit cannot disguise his nostalgia for painting as a primal act of making, though his despondency is obscured by the enthusiasm of his attack.
Buchloh's polemic is based on an insightful, if selective, Marxist reading of history that is systematically organized to attack the obvious and superficial characteristics demonstrated by an oeuvre that threatened the adversarial stance that a radi- cal art had traditionally maintained against the cultural status quo.
The Marxist model sees the function of aesthetic produc- tion as exclusively subversive, committed to perpetual opposi- tion to activities or attitudes that support the existing power structure. Notions of aesthetic hierarchy, historical value or artistic mastery, to the degree they contribute to or support a prevailing cultural enterprise, are regarded as forms of an elitist exercise of authoritarian power. The new German painting, in Buchloh's view, internalizes these characteristics and practices, generating a "climate of authoritarianism" that is disguised by an ineffectual assortment of competing postmodern ideas.
If the current debate does not place these phenomena in histor- ical context, if it does not see through the eagerness with which we are assured from all sides that the avantgarde has com- pleted its mission and has been accorded a position ol comfort within a pluralism of meanings and aesthetic masquerades, then it will become complicit in the creation of a climate of desperation and passivity.
The ideology ot postmodernism seems to forget the subtle and manifest political oppression which is necessary to save the existing power structure. Buchloh builds his argument on three points. First, by chal- lenging what he regards as the misconceptions and misrepre- sentations of the true substance of historical modernism, he offers a reading ot art history that differs significant] from the established canon.
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His point is that the modernist paradigm has been subject to periodic breakdowns throughout the Ins tory of its development, and the latest episode ol exhaustion, by implication, may he nothing more than a temporal" recidiv- 1 6 Thomas Krens ism. Loss of historical momentum, he argues, is usually met by a panic that supports itself with a call for a return to traditional values of craft and representation.
Citing examples from the early part of the twentieth century, he argues that "their own academicization and the actual exhaustion of the historical significance of their work" prompted artists like Pablo Picasso, Andre Derain, Carlo Carra and Gino Severini to call for "a return of traditional values" that resulted in a "stubborn re- fusal to recognize the epistemological consequences of their own work.
Finally, he condemns "the specter of derivativeness hover- ting] over every contemporary attempt to resurrect figuration, representation, and traditional modes of production. This appearance of a unified pictorial representation, homo- geneous in mode, material, and style, is treacherous, supplying as it does aesthetic pleasure as false consciousness, or vice versa. If the modernist work provides the viewer with percep- tual clues to all its material, procedural, formal, and ideologi- cal qualities as part of its modernist program, which therefore gives the viewer an experience of increased presence and au- tonomy of the self, then the historicist work pretends to a successful resolution of the modernist dilemma of aesthetic self-negation, particularization, and restriction to detail.
Together these opposing views offer a discursive countervalence that neatly balances the discussion, and presents a picture of the rhetorical range and territory of the critical debate that came to surround new Ger- man figurative art once it appeared on the international scene. For example, in response not to Buchloh's article, which did not appear until 1, but rather to the near universal condem- nation in the German art press of the Kiefer and Baselitz exhi- bition at the Venice Biennale, Bazon Brock offered a defense of the new German painting.
This was based on an original reading of the historical relationship between tradition and the avant-garde that is in fact a synthesis of a Marxist analysis, but turned upside down by what Brock describes as a fundamentally German tendency to treat purely intellectual de- signs as actual realities. This tendency "to read philosophy and artistic works as if they were down-to-earth operating manuals for the translation of ideas and imaginary constructs into real- ity," is a function, he claims, of a historical "lack of tradition and control that had to result from a rejection of the new.
Brock's analysis identifies a functional flaw in the German national psyche — he argues that Germans are by temperament not inclined to engage in an effective political dialectic. His criticism is not a critique of a discourse as much as it is a challenge to a historical condition of political inaction. He seeks to place in a political context the negative response to the work of new German figurative painters who dared to con- front an establishment that of the modernist paradigm that rejects any reference to or discussion of the most difficult as- pects of Germany's past.
Brock would argue, like Hegel and Buchloh, that a capacity for political opposition is missing from the German character; he accepts the radicality of the new German painting in terms of an unromantic reading of modernism that shows it inherently dependent on a condition of specific restriction, one of a "clearly defined and historically unique period. But, he continues, Nobody has yet suc- ceeded in seeing art works purely in terms of formal problems.
Brock and Buchloh speak back and forth at one another, rather than to one another. They both see subversion or oppo- sition as the essential social function for the act of aesthetic production, but they each place the implications of this percep- tion at the service of diametrically opposed positions. For Buchloh the German painters, by indulging in bourgeois con- ventions, have abandoned radical notions. For Brock indulging in bourgeois conventions is the radical mechanism for exposing a mentality of repression. And So the End of Tradition. Notes on the Present 'Kulturkampf in West Germany.
Paradox and Paradigm 1 7 A second level of support for the new German painting was provided by a cast of European curators, critics and exhibition organizers responsible for the initial presentation of the new German art to an international, as compared to a specifically German, audience.
As its early champions had it, the new Ger- man painting was nothing less than catharsis, redemption and salvation — and the return of the Romantic spirit of Richard Wagner and Caspar David Friedrich to overthrow the Ameri- can hegemony of the postwar years. For a brief time at the end of the s and the beginning of the s the new figurative work was promoted to an international audience with the fever of a religious awakening. In Kiercr's work Fuchs found the painter as "guardian angel carrying the palette in blessing over the world. In other words, through a post-modern inversion, the traditional means become the most radical.
The degree to which these basic points had already been systemati- cally built upon in setting up a coordinated and legitimate critical structure for the new painting was not really considered in this kind of inquiry, which was generally more exposition than analysis. Much of the writing that accompanied the early exhibitions and reviews of German figurative painting in- dulged in romantic and hyperbolic claims for the primacy of painting part of what Buchloh scornfully refers to as "critical cliches" and "manufactured visions" in support ot the new art that ultimately cannot be defended as helping to establish a substantive critical basis tor this work, let these claims an important to note because they situate the phenomenon ot figurative an ai the center ot a popular fascination, which is one of the primar factors thai lends presence to the occurrence of German figurative painting.
But when Fuchs writes that Painting is salvation. It represents freedom ol thought which is triumphant expression The painter is a guardian angel carrj nig the palette in blessing over the world; 1 or when Kuspit declares that [German art is elearK an art about the power ol paint to create a perverse poetry — the power ot paint to conjure im- ages that overpower and toree the spectator to look beyond his ordinary perception and everyday fantasies.
It is about the power that paint, used with raw force, has m and ol itsell on a purely material level. It is about the power The Germans show that painting is still ol value tor an under- standing ol the complexity ol the concept ol art; 1 - or when Faust claims that only through painting can an at- titude toward society which he calls "productively anarchic" be expressed;' ; or when Hilton Kramer sees painterly expres- sionism as a salvation for a contemporary malaise because it is a medium ot discovery and exploration.
It exults painting's physical properties, which it looks to as a means of generating images and stirring the emotions. Above all, it has a heart appetite for the metaphysical and the mysterious;' 4 art criticism is on the verge of surrendering to an entirely un- critical bias. While enthusiasm and promotional excess are un- avoidable in the advocacy of a problematic art, and indeed play a role in establishing a presence for that art, when aesthetic passion and a longing to recapture lost worlds replaces a criti- cal incisiveness as the principal criterion in the evaluation of an art, the vitality and relevance of this criticism are jeopardized.
If this second level of commentary was promotional and demonstrated faith in traditional modes of art-making, a cor- relative counterpoint was the glib descriptive syntax developed in reaction to the exuberance and uncritical hubris with which the new painting was initially presented to an international audience.
It is tempting to compare the advocates at this level of commentary with their counterparts in the opposition.
Full text of "Refigured painting : the German image, "
Wil- liam Feaver, a critic who seems to have a special problem with Rosenthal's presentations of the new painting in London and Berlin, criticizes the Zeitgeist exhibition with the flair of a pop movie reviewer; claiming, in a language and tone more sugges- tive of Tom Wolfe than Leo Steinberg, that the success of new German painting was essentially facile and counterfeit, driven more by market concerns than bj any innovative conceptual considerations.
Anselm Kiefer Venice, [ : 6i. Speedway paintings with so many stylistic quotes per square foot, trenchant paints with bombs, crucifixions and soft swastikas for kicks, flip paintings with characters seemingly derived from Dr. Seuss leaping about at random, all showed how certain trends are fast becoming endemic. Output is all important here.
Penck and K. Hodicke at a reckless pace.
By keeping up the pressure, the dealers are deciding the issue. They paint big because that's the way to command attention, seem convincing and most important get sufficient wall space and coverage. Lebensraum it used to be called. By dint of repetition, notions are made assured. These themes were the focal point of the third level of commentary, this one grounded in more parochial aesthetic and traditional art-his- torical terminology and generally accepting the viability of fig- urative painting while debating many of its specific details, characteristics and points of reference and inspiration as they appear in the work of individual artists.
This level of criticism is ineluctably drawn to the notion of historical reference, par- ticularly to the Nazi past, and to historical allegory, as it be- comes an implement for cultivating narrative mythologies, a practice valorized, of course, by the dominant presence of Joseph Beuys. Inevitably this line of analysis led to the conclu- sion that the new German painting was radical precisely be- cause it depended on contact with Germany's political situa- tion and, just as important, on a connection to German art of an earlier era.
Through this interaction two primary objectives were achieved: authenticity, and through authenticity, rele- vancy. This relevancy, it should be noted, depended in turn on the notion of a basically perverse postmodern radicality that reversed the traditional superficial or syntactical characteristics of a conventional and revolutionary art. By demonstrating that this art conscientiously engaged a forbidden history, on a metaphoric, allegorical and technical level simultaneously, these critics claimed that the artists were both radical in a formal sense, since they stood up to the modernist paradigm, and courageous in a humanistic sense, for forcing an encounter with Germany's past.
The obvious equation to historical specificity refers to history as subject and art as catharsis. Every commentary devotes at least a paragraph or two to recapitulating history. Germany, deceived by Hitler, seduced and dominated by fascism, and destroyed during the War, spent the first two postwar decades accommodating to a di- vided country and capital, rebuilding its economy, and follow- ing the lead of its former enemies in matters of finance and culture.
Its authentic voice was stifled by amnesia, guilt and the good common sense that committed it to maximizing its post- war assets whatever the long-term costs. Thus we have Rosen- thal affirming The artists of the post-war period who perhaps best represent the German spirit are those who, taking the fullest cognizance of the horrors of this century, incorporate with both irony and respect a reverence for the healing powers of the artist and the resonant cultural tradition of Europe; 17 and Siegfried Gohr stating In Nazi Germany.
This is a problem that, though it has been discussed by influential commentators on the history of German art has up to now been treated in only very general terms; 18 or Faust remarking After the Second World War, as a result of barbarian Nazi policy, Germany had almost no vanguard art, and turned to one international stream after another for nourishment. France, then the United States and the revival of past phases of the international pre-war avant-gardes became the fixed points around which West German art revolved To put it bluntly, the art that rapidly established itself in West Germany after the war reflected the power structures of resurgent capitalism.
This view placed specifically non art-histori- cal history at the center of an art-historical rationalization by suggesting that in a postmodern world formalist, quasiscien- tific exploration of the signifying potential of a medium is replaced by an authentic engagement of personal and historical reality. Gohr, for one, took pains to anticipate the formalist critique by directly challenging what he felt were the most obvious criticisms of the new German painting, which were that it stood accused on two points: as a relapse into representation- alism in reaction to the dominations of Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel; and as a return to expressionism.
But he further controlled the context for his own criticism by exempt- ing German art from the standards that modernism had im- posed and relying on its special history. German art cannot be adequately outlined in terms of those categories and stylistic developments which in earlier centuries proved so useful when applied to Italian and, later, to French art. If we agree that historical situations affect art, then these situations must be used to judge it.
If the German art-historians developed the most conven- tional defenses of German figurative painting, they did so from perhaps the most difficult position. As art historians they were sensitive to the demands of critical inquiry and the criteria defining internationally "important" art during the s and s. On the other hand, a vital and internationally signifi- cant German art of any formal structure created possibilities for historical exegesis that were impossible to ignore. As a result, the question of authenticity became a critical fulcrum, by means of which other issues could be raised.
The establish- ment of authenticity performed three functions: it legitimized a concern with historical research, the kind of art history thai was born in Germany; it encouraged a discussion that focussed on the alignment of social values, another preoccupation of traditional art-historical inquiry; and third, it opened the door to a contemporary discourse that had been missing from Ger- man culture for more than a half century. A fourth critique operates principally from a philosophical and theoretical plateau.
It appears to be the most disinterested and in many ways the most skeptical, not specifically of the phenomenon of new German figurative art, but generally of the kind of response it represented to the collapse of the mod- ernist paradigm. These critiques argue against the notion of an effective postmodernism in general terms, citing the inherent contradictions between non-innovative syntactical maneuvers and the formalist notions of a radical opposition upon which conceptions of art history in the twentieth century are essen- tially built.
Crimp, in one of the better examples of the genre, builds a model of the end of painting on the contrast between painting as "a high art, a universal art, a liberal art, Paradox and Paradigm 1 9 perhaps invalidate the history upon which that authority is based. Owens's synthesis ot elements of the poststructuralisl discourse of Michel Foucault dates his critique, but reflects nevertheless a level of argument against the new figurative painting based on elements ot sophisticated philosophical and historical discursive thinking, including a historical Marxism without the overtly political polemics, and on an analysis ot paradigmatic structures of modernism, postmodernism, art history, art-making and structuralism, to recognize the more authoritative themes.
This commentary tends to move toward the critical ground-zero upon which the major epistemological positions are staked out, the domain where the question of the radicality of German figurative art was the most pressing issue. Certainly the most sustained defense of German painting takes place in Kuspit's writing.
Kuspit's principal antagonist is Buchloh, and by extension, other formalist critics who cannot accept either a devitalized art or a figurative challenge to the modernist paradigm. Kuspit claims that their arguments are predicated on an analytical strategy that fails to recognize its own vested interest in perpetuating an "ineffectual, direction- less criticism — a criticality that no longer really knows its ow n goals.
These critics above all intend to deny its vanguard character, because to acknowl- edge its radicality would mean for them to deny their own. They have an unwittingly ahistorical and thus subtly irrelevant conception of avant-garde radicality. They refuse to see them- selves as traditionalists loyal to the old cause of Modernism, for then they would have to see themselves, rather than the Germans, as decadent.
Unwilling to re-examine the concept of avant-garde intention, they regard the new German painting as a simulated vanguardism, succeeding only in its deception be- cause it looks "different" at the moment. He attacks Buchloh in particu- lar, but also the positions represented by Crimp and by Owens, with the passion of a born-agam modernist. Kuspit closed his case by maintaining that the urgency of the art had been met by an urgent critique, and that by tySi "neither theoretical nor art historical comprehensiveness was at stake.
There finally is a level of intense interpla among commen- tators like Kuspit, Buchloh and Brock that specificall sought to place the new German painting in a definitive context. More disinterested but no less relevant theoretical positions were en- gaged by Crimp, Owens and others not mentioned here, to 24 Kuspit, "Acts ol Aggression": Kuspit's call for greater detail in dealing with the art has been sustained by art-historical analy- sis by Gohr and others in numerous exhibition catalogues and art journals, with the best reflections demonstrated in the monographs on Kiefer, Richter and Polke that have accom- panied recent retrospectives of their work in the United States, Germany and France.
Passionate advocacy of an art that is no longer regarded as "new" has of course abated, but the questions raised by the phenomenon of German figurative painting at the beginning of the decade have not been satisfactorily resolved. The art world has inexorably moved on. But the impact of the work and the scale of the debate still open themselves to discursive analysis, particularly as the high practitioners moved toward the hal- lowed category of "modern masters. Either the new German figurative art could be seen as a decadent, derivative and repetitive enterprise that ignored the fundamental lessons of modernism and bra- zenly indulged the conventions of a bourgeois art for its recog- nizable and marketable historical referents — or it was a logical extension of the modernist discourse in a context altered by the exhaustion of critical language.
If it were to prove true that the "new" painting demanded that entirely new and possibly fictive frames of reference be established to explain it, a new critical language, sensitive enough to the discursive possibilities of reading history in a postmodern context, but authoritative enough to satisfy the expectations generated by the rigorous modernist critique, would have to be developed.
As both Crimp and Owens have pointed out, however, an effective postmodern art-critical dis- course could maintain its vitality only at the expense of an established canon upon which its authority as a critical lan- guage could be based. At the heart of the paradox was the problem that Owens described as the basic incompatibility be- tween modern and postmodern notions: " Far from cen- suring subjective meanings derived from a poststructuralist critique that demands that reading itself be acknowledged as part of the interpretive act, contemporary art-history has de- veloped into an industry that seems to thrive on it.
The ques- tion of the power of its polemical force is another matter. Postmodernist attitudes have unquestionably placed the notion of a dialectical determinism in jeopardy. Whether art history still needs to depend on the authority of such visions clearly remains to be seen.
In the face of this paradox, however, the options suggested by the square-off between German figurative art and the criti- 2. This synthesis acknowledges the impli- cations not only of a devalorized modernism, but of a concur- rent reduction of the power and impact of the art-historical enterprise. Specifically with regard to painting, it is predicated in equal parts on the systematic marketing of the art object in contemporary society, on a fundamental perception that the range of formalist art-making strategies is restricted and finite, and on a skeptical commitment to the act of painting as play, suggested by Richter's description of painting as "pure idiocy.
High art, as it is brought to our attention with increasing insistence, is mediated by a market. And markets, we are learning, facilitate the distribution of in- formation as well as of goods and services and the objects of material culture. The fact is that the phenomenal success of the new German painting was based on its market performance, the collective votes of confidence that were cast by exhibition organizers, gallerists, museum directors, collectors and the ever-increasing art-consuming general public. Artists have always wanted 1 to make history and 2 to make money.
The contemporary appe- tite for art has upset the modernist axis that chose to emphasize the former and ignore the latter. Traditionally, when new art emerged to challenge the status quo, it sought a critical justification that could make it either more or less appealing to collectors and dealers. When artists, dealers, curators or collectors spoke about quality, they also meant art history, which suggests that enduring quality re- quired a determinant historical frame of reference against which it could be measured.
Art was made to be seen and sold, but that was secondary. The subordinate function of the mar- ket was to distribute the object. In a contemporary context, however, the object information, historical worth and practical value are all more or less linked together on equal terms.
This alliance depends on a controlled disequilibrium. The art con- tinues its attempt to be challenging and remain beyond the reach of conventional aesthetics but not far enough out to prevent it from being bought, sold, performed, analyzed or discussed ; the criticism seeks to locate it by expanding the frame of reference in a historically coherent direction which means both forward and backward because the multifaceted information function of art includes the ability to present his- torical reference to its audience in a contemporary context ; and the market places value relative to the degree to which the art and its criticism continue to authenticate the magnitude of the achievement.
Paradox and Paradigm z i This new world, which really is not so new, is a world where information is imparted by both the artist and by the reader; where prime formal strategies are recognized as finite; where the velocity and scope of the markets emphasize the value of the object as a transmitter of historical information rather than of historical significance; where the art object must adjust to a less exalted status without surrendering its subversive poten- tial; where the modernist historical code must give way to a less imperious standard without abandoning its mediative and interpretive function.
In a world such as this, an epistemologi- cal shift has already occurred. The special significance of the German figurative art of the last thirty years may therefore reside not in the range of formal invention it was able to articu- late, but in the obvious lack of such abilities. It is an art that has successfully operated in a postmodern situation, content to carry the potential for subversive and inventive activity with- out having to flaunt it as its primary reason for being.
That the modernist enterprise, inextricably tied to the his- tory of the history of art, was based on a finite set of formal propositions has become more than a hypothesis — it is the very condition of the contemporary environment to which art- ists and critics have been forced to adjust. Three decades ago, with prophetic clarity, George Kubler envisioned the post- modern situation with a profound insight about the limits of the modernist enterprise. Kubler pointed out that the tradi- tional position of art history, that of the discovery and sys- tematic chronological and stylistic categorization of works of art, will no longer be relevant once the archeological process of discovering and recording is more or less complete.
The historical study of art in systematic principles is about two thousand years old if we include Vitruvius and Pliny. This accumulated knowledge now far surpasses the ability of any individuals to encompass its detail. It is unlikely that many major artists remain to be discovered. Each generation of course continues to reevaluate those positions of the past which bear upon present concerns, but the process does not uncover towering new figures in the familiar categories so much as it reveals unfamiliar types of artistic effort, each with its own new biographical roster.
Similarly Radical innovations may perhaps not continue to appear with the frequency we have come to expect in the past century. It is possibly true that the potentialities of form and meaning in human society have all been sketched out at one time and place or another, in more or less complete projections Were this hypothesis to be verified, it would radically affect our concep- tion of the history of art. Instead of occupying an expanding universe of forms, which is the contemporary artist's happy but premature assumption, we would be seen to inhabit a finite world of limited possibilities, still largely unexplored, yet open to adventure and discovery, like the polar wastes long before their human settlement.
Instead of regarding the past as a microscopic annex to a future ot astronomical magnitudes, we would have to envisage. The histor ot things would then assume- an importance now assigned only to tin- strateg ot profitable inventions. Kubler's brilliance was to sec that a perception of the bound- aries of formal invention did not necessarily invalidate the en- terprise, but simply indicated a shift in strategic assumptions. Rather than obsess itself with a strateg ot invention, he sug- gests that art has a history to mine, that the excavation of expressive potential performs the salubrious function of com- municating with the past.
If the art object has become a commodity, and if the depreci- ation of radical innovation appears to have diminished the historical relevance of painting, the expansion ot the historical frame encourages sustenance of the engagement. German painting no longer displays the radical presence it commanded in 19Hz. It has been moderated from all sides. The urgenev regarding its relationship to the avant-garde, though still unre- solved, is no longer a concern. The artists have been provoked into more complicated positions. A second and third genera- tion of figurative painters have emerged to challenge the con- ventions and attitudes of the original group, but hardly with the passion of a frontal attack.
The work of painters such as Norbert Tadeusz, Christa Naher and Michael Buthe, who missed the glare of the spotlight ten years ago, now offer other dimensions to the discourse. The rediscovery of the complex attitudes of Polke and Richter testify to the final irrelevance of historical categorization. The critical context for new German painting is then not only demystified, but the political and social atmosphere in which the art was made in the first place and provided its authenticity, recedes in significance as well. The situation is now interesting because of its complexity and at times beguil- ing virtuosity within the restricted and artificial frame of the medium of painting.
Within the context of the medium of history is established the history of the medium — against which finally the personal history is painted. The important thing is to paint long enough to have a history. Vj Kubler, George. Blasphemy on Our Side Fates of the Figure in Postwar German Painting Joseph Thompson While I was painting the sewing machine in my simply fur- nished apartment in Versailles, it dawned on me that the pic- ture had become something more than the image of a modest home appliance.
In the feminine lines of the sewing machine's body, in the shimmering knobs, thread guides and needle, I recognized Lilo again, with whom I had just broken off in a fight. A part of our troubles had made their way into the picture, which came to be known to —me and I promised then to tell no one — as The Offended Bride. Appearing in 57, at the height of all-over, abstractionist painting, and before Pop Art had found its American, one-off, disposable imagery, Klapheck's works should be read neither as simple reactions to international abstract tendencies, nor as ironic statements about a materialistic world.
Rather, his images are portraits and landscapes projected through careful renderings of beauti- ful machines to which Klapheck bestows monumental pres- ence. Klapheck's implements leap free from the canvas with the wholistic pictorial logic of medieval icons and the visual punch of modern advertisements. The effect, finally, is that of the intensity and magical focus projected from a child's gaze, and, tellingly, when Klapheck speaks of his work, his explanations are interwoven with stories of his childhood and personal past. Andre Breton said of his work that, "Towards the machine Klapheck acts like a magician hiding none of his methods The Offended Bride cat.
The im- age remains abstract and is representational only in the sense that a map or a mechanical drawing is representational; and rather than present a pictorial organization in which the whole painting surface is given 'as a single undifferentiated field of interest',' Klapheck's imagery unfolds in the sinister configura- tion of the needle bale, in the tipped-over spool of thread, in the modestly gesturing nude who appears in the shape of a brand-name medallion, and finally in the careful rearrange- ment of the power switch, which places the toggle slit in a much more anatomically suggestive position than it occupies in the actual sewing machine on which Klapheck modeled this one.
Dieter Hacker Painting is not justifiable in itself, and I find painting for the sake of painting totally boring. Helmut Middendorf Pictures must be made according to a recipe. The painting must be done without any engagement, just as one would break stones or paint facades. The making process is not an artistic act. Gerhard Richter The means of painting is color on canvas, Oswald.
Markus Lupertz 1. Introduction Although drawn from an epoch of art-making as diverse in media and technique as any in the history of art, Refigured Painting: The German Image i 88 nevertheless settles into distinctly conventional bounds. Indeed, it is tempting to place the entire production under a giant negative sign, cataloging the work by everything that it is not — nonperformance art, non-immateriel and non-site-specific, the works can be hung on almost any large wall; nonindustrial, the mark of the hu- man hand is almost everywhere evident; and non-high-tech, the work is entirely lacking in state-of-the-art, high-technology production values.
The dominant conventionality of Refigured Painting is all the more remarkable in view of the Federal Republic of Ger- many's prominent role in the international avant-garde of the past three decades. Beyond Beuys, the entire idiom of performance-based and nonobject art was developed as early and has been taken as far in Germany as anywhere else. Zimmer — was engaged in a highly charged, socially motivated art that earned them their arrest and conviction for blasphemy and abuse of religion.
And in Berlin on November 10, 1 96 1 — one day after the arrest of the SPUR antagonists and three months after the construction of the Berlin Wall — Georg Baselitz and Eugen Schonebeck staged Panddmonium, a small exhibitory event in a decrepit Berlin-Wilmersdorf attic studio rented specially for the occasion. Schonebeck recalls that the single written response was by the critic Heinz Ohff, and the visitation "averaged about one or two people per day, which was surprisingly many, because we were not known, and the manifestoes only lasted a day or two around the city.
No truck with those who can't wrap art up in a smell. I have no kind word to say to the amiable. They have proceeded by art historical accretion, they have ruled neat lines under things, they have practised mystification with all the passion of a col- lector We have blasphemy on our side! They have escaped their sick- beds. Their simplifying methods have swept them on to the crest of the waves. The ice beneath the foggy maze is broken. They are all frozen stiff — those who believe in fertility, those who believe in it — those who deny their pens and those who revere them.
Fiery furrows in the ice, flowerlike crystals, criss- cross icicles, starry sky torn open. Frozen nudes with encrusted skin — trail of spilt blood. The amiable are washed up, depos- ited as sediment 5 The Panddmonium exhibition employed an image vocabulary which was to be of central importance to German figurative painting of the next twenty-five years.
But it is the manifesta- tion itself of that imagery — its almost unnoticed realization in a space outside the international avant-garde and society at large — which most concerns us here. The abrupt, stubborn brushwork which centrifuges out from a seemingly random zone on the page recalls the dense, frag- 3 See Emmett Williams's firsthand account, "St. George and the Fluxus Dra- gon. We see very clearly in these early works the moment at which Schonebeck, together with Baselitz, assumed an une- quivocal, provocative position counter to the then dominant mode of abstraction.
Schonebeck's troubling body-stumps arise to challenge all those amiable critics and artists who, as noted in the Panddmonium manifesto, "have proceeded by art historical accretion, have ruled neat lines under things, and have practised mystification with all the passion of a collec- tor.
Like scenes from Laut- reamont's Songs of Maldoror, the stunted, ruinous themes of Schonebeck proclaim an alternate and desperate Menschen- bild, an inhabited pictorial space which vaunts the little mutant horrors repressed in the Wirtschaftswundcr but alive outside of it. This was a vision very precisel and consciously alien to the mainstream of formalism, the figural bodies occupying a picto- rial territory in which the marking structure of Informel was literally denied, an outsider's space which Schonebeck also ar- ticulates in this statement about his relationship to Baselitz m the early 60s Our relationship at thai time consisted in shaking each other up to r.
We put ourselves mto extreme situations; we cultivated an extreme antibourgeois attitude. We wanted to provoke.