26 April 2005

Kunst in der DDR

Kunst in der DDR: Eine Retrospektive der Nationalgalerie

Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 25.7.-26.10.2003

This ‘Sonderausstellung’ of 400 works by 145 artists included paintings, drawings, collages, sculpture, and photography. It did not impose firm divisions between state-sanctioned art and dissident art, and challenged clichéd views of socialist realism. Outside the gallery, on the forecourt, was Fritz Cremer’s sculpture O Deutschland bleiche Mutter (after Brecht), with its brittle, burnt-looking surface. The exhibition inside began with Wilhelm Rudolf’s black-and-white pictures of Dresden in postwar ruins. Proceeding broadly chronologically, it also ended with GDR cityscapes - colour photographs of the Marx-Engels statue erected in Berlin in the 1980s. Konrad Knebel’s gloomy Berlin streets from the 1970s sustained the cityscape theme in between.

Much in this exhibition evoked blackness and the night-side. Albert Ebert’s Heizers Geburtstagsständchen is a largely black picture, both industrial and fairytale, with white-winged angels, golden musical instruments and a minuscule Ulbricht face in the flames.

Figurative work featured strongly, including the sculpture Große Neeburger Figur and the painting Studentin. Willi Sitte’s Arbeitspause was a large, tranquil painting of the workman as a reader, apparently an Oriental wise man on a pastel-shaded contemporary construction site. Via Lewandowsky’s Ikarus could be seen as a response to Fritz Cremer’s Aufsteiger, with which it was displayed. Wolfgang Mattheuer’s Flucht des Sisyphos of 1972 took up the mythical figure recurrently appropriated by GDR poets (Uwe Kolbe, Günter Kunert, Hans Brinkmann) from the mid-1970s onwards. The Sisyphean task, of rolling uphill a stone which always rolls down just before the summit, provides an image of endless labour – Mattheuer’s Sisyphus was escaping this given ‘Aufgabe’ but also, more ambiguously, the ‘Hoffnung’ (to make Kunert and Brinkmann’s connection) tied up with it. Besides Classical myth, biblical allusion was also used in the displayed art, for instance in the paintings Kain and Nach dem Hochwasser.

Pictures in the tradition of Dix and Grosz included Strawalde’s Beweinung, Volker Stelzmann’s Bunkerkarneval and Bernhard Heisig’s Unterm Hakenkreuz. Much of the art was about artificiality or presented marionettes like Wilhelm Lachnit’s hairless Gliederpuppe of 1948.