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The Staatsgalerie Presents The Collection. New Rooms. New Presentation. Art After 1950
Bruce Nauman, Welcome / Shaking Hands, 1985, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2008.

STUTTGART, GERMANY.- Until 1 June 2009, post-1950 art from the Staatsgalerie collection will be on view in the new rooms on the ground floor of the Alte Staatsgalerie. The presentation will consist in part of exhibits never before shown or long in storage: paintings, sculptures, objects, installations, photographic works and more will be grouped in large work complexes in altogether ten new rooms. The exploration of art history from 1350 onward in the galleries on the upper floors of the museum will thus be continued with examples of artistic production of the last fifty years. And with a painting entitled Ordnungshüter (Keepers of Order) carried out in the past months by Neo Rauch and donated by Rudolph and Uta Scharpff, the journey will bring visitors right up to the very present.

Room EG 1: new materials for art

In the 1960s, partly as a reaction against the cerebral slickness of Minimalism and Pop Art‘s orientation towards consumer culture and the media, artists reclaimed natural materials which seemed to offer a new aesthetic and qualitative dimension. Like the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and later Jean Dubuffet before them, who focused on the expressive power of material, the artists abandoned all hierarchical distinction between ›worthy‹ and ›unworthy‹ material. Many of their works change appearance with each new installation, as their programmatic renunciation of frame and pedestal calls for a differentiated response to each change of environment. The material – coal, iron, fabric, wood, stones, soot – has a visceral impact on the viewer and tends to articulate organic processes, although it may also reference myth and history, for example through the inclusion of plaster cast fragments as in the work of Jannis Kounellis. Both Arte Povera, whose very name refers to the humble materials it employed, and its distant cousin Land Art set out to overcome the commodity character of art. Land Art takes this concern a few steps further by assembling works in remote regions far from the hustle and bustle of the art world. Artists such as Richard Long occasionally transplant some of these works into a museum context, in a ritualised gesture that acts as a potent reminder of the magic of the landscape that first gave rise to them.

Room EG 2: reductions

Minimal Art emerged in America in the 1960s as a reaction against the emotive gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism, which it sought to counter with objectivity and de-individualisation. It is characterised by the reduction to a small number of elemental, usually geometric, shapes, often referred to as ›primary structures‹, serial repetition and the use of modern industrially produced materials. Minimalism typically seeks to avoid any evidence of an artist‘s personal touch, such as brushstrokes. While the term Minimalism is primarily used for three-dimensional works – the reflection of the physical properties of wall and floor plays a key role – painters, too, embraced the idea of paring down art to elementary structures and monochrome expanses of flat colour. An important aspect of Minimalist painting is the investigation of the conditions that shape painting as a form, among them questions of format or the relationship between picture and wall, ground and paint. In their effort to stay clear of emotion and subjectivity, painters focused on the means of representation rather than on representation itself. Although equally rooted in the renunciation of traditional painting and a major influence on Minimalism and Conceptual Art, Ad Reinhardt‘s pared-down geometric compositions – particularly his late ›black paintings‹,which invite the viewer to concentrate on gradations of colour of such subtlety that they are almost impossible to distinguish – are less concerned with the aims of Minimalism than with Reinhardt‘s preoccupation with the meditative function of art.

Room EG 3: the language of objects

In the early 1960s the French artist Robert Filliou and his American colleague George Brecht began to participate in the key international Fluxus events. Their work – and that of their friend Dieter Roth – involves the use of everyday objects and reflects a desire to cross established artistic boundaries and interweave art and life. Poetry and wit mark their investigations of the validity of codified systems, particularly that of language, which, they felt, stood in the way of a more intuitive grasp of reality.

Roth‘s pictures and assemblages of everyday materials also operate on a metalinguistic level. They are pictorial reflections on the possibility of a dialogic exchange that references his own biography. His use of perishable material mirrors the impermanence of nature and becomes a parable of the physical decay of man. The artist‘s work and its interaction with the viewer is the subject of Roth‘s installation BAR 0 begun in 1978 and expanded in 1998. Its sprawling accumulations of predominantly artistic paraphernalia welcome the visitor in their very own, barrierless way.

Room EG 4: »Hunger for Images«

»Hunger for Images« was the pithy title of a book by Wolfgang Max Faust and Gerd de Vries that promoted the boom of primarily neo-expressive painting in Germany in the early 1980s. After years of Conceptual Art and Minimalism, painters wholeheartedly embraced figuration but cold-shouldered any direct reproduction of reality. Georg Baselitz, for example, describes his relationship to his motifs – among them the archetypically German eagle, German shepherd dog and the German forest – as random and programmatically turns them upside-down, focusing instead on painting as the medium of the expressive painterly gesture. Anselm Kiefer‘s monumental works engage directly with German themes. He touches on taboo subjects and controversial issues of Germany‘s recent history, particularly the Third Reich. His paintings do not seek to portray Nazi crimes as metaphysical, inexplicable calamities but, rather, to bring them into an »alarming here and now« (Werner Spies). By contrast, Gerhard Richter‘s Abstract Paintings tap into Conceptual Art and proclaim the medium as the message. His work focuses on the investigation of the paradigms of modern abstraction between monochromy and expression.

Room EG 5: art of the 1980s

Art of the 1980s is generally associated with subject-centred, anti-conceptual painting. In actual fact, it was rather more multifaceted than that. The American art critic and curator Douglas Crimp was one of the first to question the notion of the 1980s as a one-dimensional decade of figurative neo-expressive painting. His now legendary exhibition Pictures, held at Artists Space in New York in 1977, proposed a different view which focused on postmodern artistic strategies. The artists presented, many of whom worked with photography, rejected the moral imperative of originality and authorship. Instead they appropriated images from advertising and art history,mining the familiar for its untold reserves, in order to fuel the critical discourse on gender and power. This strategic citation of images became known as ›Appropriation Art‹, a term later also used for Barbara Kruger‘s poster-style works, Louise Lawler‘s photographed arrangements and Jeff Koons‘s ›cute commodity art‹. Another artistic trend of the 1980s was Neo-Geo (New Geometry) – here represented by John Armleder and Gerwald Rockenschaub – whose non-objective pictorial language taps into the history of abstract art and references the environment and society. Feminism gave rise to feminist strategies. Thus Rosemarie Trockel‘s work Hot Plates alludes to the rigorous geometry of male-dominated Minimal Art and challenges clichéd concepts of the role of women.

Room EG 6: abstraction – figuration: Uwe Lausen – Neo Rauch – Daniel Richter

This room presents the work of two generations of German artists and showcases their different but equally intense approach to abstraction and figuration and their perceptive engagement with their present-day reality. Uwe Lausen (1941–1970),who was profoundly influenced by the political and artistic activism of the Gruppe SPUR and the International Situationists, first came to public attention for his involvement in 1960s subculture. Lausen channelled manic depression into aggressive texts and obsessive, initially expressively abstract later more figurative paintings. He regarded his work first and foremost as »a how-to guide to scepticism«. Lausen‘s often radical analysis of social reality and his stylistic breadth make him interesting to younger artists such as Daniel Richter (b. 1962) who integrated Lausen‘s work into an exhibition of his own in 2006. Richter first emerged in the mid-1990s with colourful paintings that recapitulated techniques of abstraction. By 2000 he had moved on to figurative motifs taken from mass media, subculture and art history to address angst, terror, violence and death. Real life experience also informs the work of Neo Rauch (b. 1960), albeit in highly cryptic form that defies easy interpretation. His uncanny paintings are, as he says, »the continuation of dream by other means.«

Room EG 7: focus on the body

Art has always dealt with the human body. With the emergence of Body Art and Performance Art in the 1960s, however, the body is no longer merely the subject of art, but becomes its principal medium and focus, a projection screen for the analysis of individual experiences, social changes, crises and upheavals. A differentiated examination of gender relations, the critique of social power structures and the dissolution of moral constraints have since given rise to a different image of the body and created an awareness of the social conditions that determine the way we look at the body and of the space with which it interacts. Room 7 shows the different ways contemporary artists visualise the body, its conditions, limitations, fragmentations, presentations, obsessions and reconstructions in photography, screen print, sculpture and video. Often – as in the case of John Coplans, Rebecca Horn, Joan Jonas or in Bruce Nauman‘s early work – it is the artist‘s own body and personal psychic and physical condition that provides the starting point for the work. Other works, for example Nauman‘s later neon piece, focus on a de-individualised body as the medium of communication or, as in the case of Asta Gröting, as an energetic system.

Room EG 9: abstraction as a universal language

The second documenta exhibition in 1959 proposed a view of contemporary art that postulated abstraction as the dominant trend of the post-war years and acknowledged the leading role of American Abstract Expressionism. Europe held its own, fielding a strong contingent of abstract painters, among them Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Emil Schumacher, Hans Hartung, Karl Otto Götz, K. R. H. Sonderborg, Peter Brüning and Gerhard Hoehme from Germany, Jean Bazaine, Alfred Manessier, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Soulages and Georges Mathieu from France, the Italian Emilio Vedova, the Spaniard Eduardo Chillida and many others. The term Art Informel (from the rench ›informe‹,meaning unformed or formless) was coined by the French critic Michel Tapié in 1952 and quickly came to be used to describe European gestural abstraction of the 1950s and early 60s. The artists saw themselves at the forefront of a new global culture united by the universal language of abstraction. Rooted in the automatist school of Surrealism and Kandinsky‘s improvisations, Art Informel embraced a wide swathe of related types of abstraction and soon came under fierce attack from champions of figurative art in the West and from ideologues on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

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