Please note: This post is part of a series of exhibition reviews by students in Introduction to Modern Art, Architecture, and Design.
I believe, as did many modern artists, that the artist should be a reporter of their time. Artists use their means to interpret the society they live in and reflect on their own works of art. The curators of the exhibitions at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum of Art introduce the greatest German contemporary artists’ work with these very ideas in mind. At the same time, they show German society and the environment through artists’ perspective.
The Saint Louis Art Museum’s exhibition “Postwar German Art” features many important works in many different types of mediums. The opening artwork by Gerhard Richter, Betty, 1988, is like a leading guide to the exhibition that also looks back to the modern German art. The painting is based on photograph of his daughter Betty looking back at one of Richter’s paintings. If SLAM’s exhibition is like the opening painting of Richter’s daughter looking back to his work, to reflect the modern art in Germany, the work shown at the Kemper is like Betty turning her head to the front and looking at art works from her generation and into the future. It’s like a new generation looking back in history and understanding its significance. Each artwork at the Kemper is like an extension of some of the works SLAM.
Gerhard Richter is one of the most popular contemporary German artists, and just like the rest of the famous museums around the world, many of his works are featured in these exhibitions here in St. Louis. After last year’s retrospectives in Berlin and Paris, this is the third time I saw Richter’s Betty, 1988, Gray Mirror, 1911, and Ölberg, 1986, also in the first gallery in SLAM’s exhibition, in two years. It is almost no surprise that his work and its influence are prominent in these exhibitions. It is like the entire world needs to help him celebrate his 80th birthday.
At the Kemper’s exhibition, many artworks look like visual extensions of Richter’s work. Corinne Wasmuht’s painting Llanganuco, 2008, is a good example. The multi-layered, varnished and brightly colored oil on wood painting has a strong abstract visual language that relates to Richter’s Ölberg. Both works were also influenced by and based on photographs. Like Richter’s paintings Betty and Ölberg, Andreas Gursky’s photograph Beijing, 2010, is one of the starting points of the exhibition at the Kemper and it also shows the globalization of German art. It introduces a new subject, the Olympic stadium in Beijing. Tomas Bayrle’s Sun Yat-sen, 2005, introduced yet another Chinese icon to the exhibition. Therefore, after visiting SLAM, a tour at Kemper helps the audience to understand what is going on in contemporary Germany and beyond.
The Kemper art museum’s exhibition of post-1990s German contemporary art featured a variety of mediums from artists mainly born after the 1950s. They are the generation that learned, experienced, and expanded art based on German Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s. Although they did not experience World War II, they witnessed the fall of the Berlin wall. The Kemper’s exhibition is therefore a great extension of the one at SLAM. It introduces viewers to Germany after the reunified democratic society. After visiting the SLAM exhibition, audiences may be wondering what artists in Germany were doing after this. What kind of work would those artists be producing after that of the post-war generation? Various media exhibited at SLAM seem like they already pushed the artists to the point where new innovations could hardly be created anymore. Therefore, the Kemper exhibition is a perfect sequel for the one at SLAM. Especially with the different media, artists kept inventing their new artistic language to document German society. The works in SLAM’s exhibition primarily address the legacy of WWII, and the artists perfectly portrayed their society, their beliefs, their philosophy, and their personal feelings about Germany’s role in the war in this exhibition. For example, artists like Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, and others portrayed this.
The Kemper features works that pushed the boundaries of the medium in which they were created and reflect more upon daily life in contemporary Germany. Both of the exhibitions were comprised of important artworks made in the wake of WWII and later, the reunification of Germany, and reflect not only people’s emotion towards these events, but also their lives afterwards.
By Kiki Liu (Friday, August 9, 2013)