When it comes to specifically German art, relatively little has been shown on the scale of “Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures.” Curated by Stephanie Barron in collaboration with German colleague Eckhart Gillen of Kulturprojekte Berlin, this show is a tour de force that takes over the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and fills an equally large blank in popular knowledge regarding art made in Germany after World War II—on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Throughout the exhibition, every piece is powerful in its own right: be it Richard Peter Sr.’s 1945-49 photo documentations of destroyed buildings and the corpses found therein, Gerhard Richter’s image of a benignly smiling SS man (Uncle Rudi), Hannah Höch’s moving painting Mourning Women, or Hans Haacke’s mocking ’80s installation based on a photo/social realist oil painting of Ronald Reagan (Homage to Marcel Broodthaers). It is based on perceptions of Reagan’s hyped role in the removal of the Berlin Wall on one hand and his plans to stage nuclear defense missiles in West Germany on the other.
Due to its unrelenting intellectual and emotional demands, this is an exhibition that may require out of the ordinary perseverance and/or several visits. Fortunately, there is ample didactical information, and the arrangements of visual materials help one to comprehend fragmented art movements embedded in a horrifically fraught social history. Beginning with Peter Sr.’s searing photographs and several pencil sketches of Berlin and other major cities in ruins, the curators take viewers on an exploration that introduces To the Victims of Fascism, a breathtaking 1947 painting by Hans Grundig that offers homage to the millions who perished in concentration camps, along with Werner Tübke’s painting Reminiscences of (Dr. jur.) Schulze, that illustrates the fictitious life story of a Nazi hanging judge and that seems to channel Hieronymus Bosch. Barron also presents a cherished discovery, the brilliant but heretofore little-known Neo-Constructivist/Modernist Hermann Glöckner (Cut Up Tin Pot recalls Duchamp and the Dadaists) who wrought small miracles from banal objects such as broken eyeglasses or matchboxes. The journey ends in the 1980s, when German artists from both sides of the wall exercise their roles (via traditional and modern multi-media means) of social critics and world citizens. “Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures” forms the third part of a trilogy of shows organized by LACMA senior curator Barron, in conjunction with “Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany” (1991) and “Exiles and Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler” (1997).
Den Opfern des Faschismus (zweite Fassung) (To the Victims of Facism [Second Version],) 1946/49, Hans Grundig Oil on fiberboard, 435⁄16' x 783⁄4'
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Galerie Neue Meister
©2009 Hans Grundig Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/VG Bild Kunst, Bonn