I feel like I’ve just found my new favourite artist and learnt lots more about others in the process. All the artists on display at the British Museum’s Germany Divided exhibition crossed over from East to West Germany during the country’s post-WWII separation and I was captivated form beginning to end – not just by the art, but the stories that went with them.
For instance, Gerhard Richter crossed from East to West Berlin in March 1961, four months before the borders were closed, Penck was expelled from East Germany in 1980 and Georg Baselitz moved to West Berlin a few years after being expelled from the Academy of Fine and Applied Art in East Berlin for being ‘socio-politically immature’.
It’s Baselitz’s (b. 1938, German Democratic Republic) art that this exhibition is really all about and I loved it – strange, deformed bodies in bleak, ravaged landscapes; large superhero like figures ensnared by small foot traps or in torn, tattered clothing; and fractured images, dividing people and animals, presumably reflecting the divided and fractured world of 1960s Germany.
But alongside the bleak images and the ‘existential plight of man in the ruins of Europe’ Baselitz’s work is also funny. Take the herdsman in Herdsman, 1966, who has his work cut out trying to herd two huge rubber duck-like ducks and the moustached figure who appears to be maintaining his stiff upper lip in the face of doom in Partisan. Perhaps it isn’t all doom and gloom, perhaps there is a way of getting past the desolate, devastated landscapes and seeing something amusing in life.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to say about the socio-political context of these images, but the art stands up for itself and it is the art that makes this exhibition so fascinating for me, forcing me to go round twice to take it all in. So thank you, as always, British Museum.
Germany Divided: Baselitz and his Generation
Until 31 August 2014
You can also see new work by Baselitz at the Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9J until 29 March.