That etiolated pursuit: Figurative painting in the 21st century, the Berlin Wall and the New Leipzig School
ACUADS 2018 Conference
It is widely accepted in the discourse of contemporary art, that the rise of Conceptualism dramatically challenged the legitimacy of figurative painting in the Western art world, resulting in post-modernist critics proclaiming its death in the 1980’s. This denunciation was in part due to this genre being appropriated by the National Socialists in Germany during the Third Reich as well as by the Stalinist Communists, in order to promote their divergent ideological principles. The forced division of Germany in 1945, and the subsequent construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, caused the nascent individual states to be subject to political and social extremes, bifurcating into largely separate trajectories. One particular effect was the partition of East German art academies from Western discourse. Consequently, they continued to provide classical training with the emphasis on specific technical skills and techniques; and figurative painting continued to be regarded as the country’s most important and prestigious art form.
I argue that the concepts of Event and Deleuzian Sensation are made manifest in key works by members of the New Leipzig School, a collective term for a loose assembly of figurative painters, who emerged out of the former GDR after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I want to ask questions in order to understand these concepts and in doing so deepen the trajectory of my own painting practice. Of particular interest is how this historic event impacted on their oeuvre? According to the art historian April Eisman, lingering post-wall triumphalism and a general dismissal of the context in which their works have been created, led to this group being largely misrepresented in Anglo /American discourse. Insights gained from an analysis of the Leipzig painters’ work are generated into my own painting practice and its concern with figurative painting as a valid means of expression, particularly against the backdrop of the digital age. More generally, the research examines through their legacy, how the history of art is relevant in contemporary discourse and a crucial factor informing the present.