Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Using the Past to Discover the Future

“My paintings are battles”
Georg Baselitz

The controversial German artist, Georg Baselitz was seven when the Second World War ended and for the next 12 years he lived in East Germany, the virtual satellite state of Communist Russia. He became interested in painting at high school and at 18 enrolled at East Berlin’s College of Fine and Applied Arts. After two semesters he was expelled for "sociopolitical immaturity."

As he explained to the Guardian NewspaperI was told if I worked in industry for a year I could return to art school as I would by then have the right mindset. But I knew that would destroy me and so I chose to go to the west."

A year later in West Berlin, Baselitz experienced a touring exhibition of contemporary American painting. "Until then I had lived first under the Nazis, and then in the GDR. Modern art just did not occur so I knew almost nothing. Not about German expressionism, dadaism, surrealism or even cubism. And suddenly here was abstract expressionism...The exhibition was a great shock not just because of the art, but also because while we knew that the British, the French and the Russians had something like culture, we didn't expect it from the Americans. For us the Americans were just show-offs who had absolutely nothing to offer intellectually. But now they had not only won the war, they also had the culture…I had to make a decision what to do with this new information. I knew that we had lost the war, and that we were lost. And I now also realized that I was not welcome in this culture because I was not a modern person. What I wanted to do was something that totally contradicted internationalism: I wanted to examine what it was to be a German now.”

Baselitz adopted an outsiders position identifying with the art of mentally ill, the Nazis degenerate art, adding the figure to into abstract expressionism along with motifs culled from German folklore and ultimately depicting his subjects upside down; a style that appeared both figurative and abstract. Along the way Baselitz courted controversy that ranged from the obscene (The Big Night Down the Drain) via the politically incorrect (A Model for a sculpture) to the just the pain provocative (Women don't paint very well).

As he has said “I felt very privileged to have the artist's power to contradict. You feel like you are the founder of a new religion, even if your congregation is only your wife and kids."

To which he has added “Many of my advisers, especially my wife, say that I am too bold. But what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to make statements that are politic? Am I supposed to be friendly? That's just not who I am."

Baselitz’s latest exhibition is a White Cube at Glyndebourne, Special Project and is on show until the 30th of August.

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