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And the Giants Crossed the Atlantic




Monterrey, Mexico




Laura Pachero, Ivo Mesquita, Hector Ramos

With 150 works from the collection of the Deutsche Bank, the exhibition The Return of the Giants documents the triumph of “Heftige Malerei” or “Fierce Painting” in Germany. On October 25, the exhibition’s extended Latin American tour will begin in the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo in Monterrey, Mexico, after which it will continue its tour through Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. For the Spanish catalogue El Regreso de los Gigantes, the Brazilian curator Ivo Mesquita, a renowned expert on Latin American art, formulated an essay on the influence contemporary German painting has had on the artists of the South American continent between 1975 and 1985. Mesquita was a curator for the São Paulo Biennial Foundation from 1980 to 1988; today, he’s a guest professor at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. Excerpts from his text And the Giants Crossed the Atlantic, to this date unpublished in Germany, are appearing here for the first time at db-art.info.



Ausstellungsansicht mit Jörg Immendorff "Verwegenheit stiften", 1981

(...)
In 1985, for the 18th Biennial of São Paulo, curator Sheila Leirner enlisted the collaboration of nearly every exhibition institution in the country in a definitive and radical gesture that addressed the subject of Western painting after the seventies. Leirner’s decision was to present this abundance of production in three corridors 400feet long and 20 feet wide each. What became known at the time as “The Great Canvas” of the Biennial of São Paulo consisted in the presentation of paintings by about fifty artists from around the world, ordered alphabetically and hung side by side with only an eight-inch space between canvases, just enough to insert a label identifying the work. There, among many others, the works of Europeans such as Paula Rêgo, Helmut Middendorf, Enzo Cucchi, Juan Uslé, Hubert Scheibl, Stefano Di Stasio, J.G. Dokoupil, and Marlene Dumas could be seen alongside Latin Americans such as Pablo Suárez, Daniel Senise, Sergio Hernández, Gillermo Kuitca, Nuno Ramos, and Angel Loochkart, as well as the Japanese artists Tadanori Yokoo and Mika Yoshizawa or the Canadian Oliver Girling. Also present were Hungarians, Czechs, Scandinavians, and Koreans.

The experience of seeing such a tremendous number of paintings in a biennial exhibition had a huge impact; in a sense, an exhibition of this kind always constitutes a momentary survey of contemporary art, presented without hierarchy, yet at the same time with a certain amount of ambiguity and lack of subtlety. (…)

The German presence at that Biennial was quite significant. Along with Middendorf and Dokoupil, Peter Bömmels, Bernd Koberling, Salomé, Hella Santarossa, and sculptor Albert Hien also took part. This contingent was more or less natural, considering that the exhibition celebrated new painting; since then, the German artists’ importance throughout the seventies has become the subject of a sizeable bibliography, and not much need be added regarding the significance of their contribution to the debate on contemporary art and to the formation of a postmodern sensibility. At the same time, it is interesting to consider this group as the pinnacle of a program to systematically reinforce the presence of German painting on the international circuit through a continuous biennial participation. The biographies of the artists in the exhibition The Return of the Giants demonstrate that nearly all participated in the Venice Biennale between 1972 and 1986 or in the Biennial of São Paulo between 1975 and 1987. It is not my intention here to analyze the significance of that process in terms of the international circuit, but, in limiting myself to the Brazilian scene, I would like to indicate a few of its repercussions on local artistic production as well as point out certain resonant and simultaneous activity in important cities on the Latin American continent, where the giants continue to circulate to this day.



Georg Baselitz, Bilder der Serie "Adler", 1977





Blick in die Ausstellung: A.R. Penck

First came the magnificent series of paintings by Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke at the 13th Biennial of São Paulo in 1975, an exhibition that profited from the participation of Blinky Palermo and that subsequently traveled to other Latin American capitals, evoking surprise and unease at a time when, on the international artistic scene, the interest of the avant-gardes for media such as photography, film, and video continued to prevail while the more traditional media of artistic practice were abandoned. Later, at the 17th Biennial in 1983, the exhibitions of A.R. Penck and Markus Lüpertz became important points of reference in the development of artists such as Daniel Senise, Beatriz Milhazes, Nuno Ramos and the Casa Sete Group: landscapes populated with voluminous forms, fragments of bodies and architectures, hybrid objects, and somber colors dominate the whole of the canvas, imposing themselves as presences that are heroic, yet devoid of thematic connotations.

Following the celebration of 1985, at the 18th Biennial in 1987, it was Anselm Kiefer’s turn, who became the most sought-after and celebrated German artist of that period. His influence on young artists was considerable even before they were able to see him “in the flesh,” as can be noted from the vast production by artists at that time who were affected by the same melancholy and employed the same technical procedures as the master, yet without achieving his depth and relevance. (…)