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Il Ritorno dei Giganti

After closing at Milan’s Fondazione Antonio Mazzotta, Il Ritorno dei Giganti/ The Return of the Giants will resume its tour in Latin America on October 25, 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico; in this exhibition, the collection of the Deutsche Bank will be showing a selection of works that enjoyed a spectacular triumph on the international art scene at the beginning of the eighties, coming to be known under the collective title Heftige Malerei, or fierce painting (order catalogue here). Around 150 paintings and works on paper by the artists Elvira Bach, Georg Baselitz, Walter Dahn, Jirí Georg Dokoupil, Rainer Fetting, Antonius Höckelmann, Karl Horst Hödicke, Jörg Immendorff, Dieter Krieg, Markus Lüpertz, Helmut Middendorf, and A.R. Penck will be on show.


The Return of the Giants proclaimed here is meant programmatically in a two-fold sense.



Rainer Fetting: Van Gogh Gauguin - "Return of the Giants", 1980
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002


Borrowed from a work of the same name by Rainer Fetting, the title not only quotes the onetime hearkening back to pre-modernist painting, but also refers to the heavily staged debut of a generation of painters whose members themselves now count among the ”giants” of recent German art history. As the proponents of a New Figuration, the artists shown represent an artistic movement whose first stirrings occurred at the same time the Deutsche Bank began systematically amassing its collection. Twelve years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Return of the Giants recalls a time during which German art became intensively involved with its own history and cultural values.


Jörg Immendorff:
from the series "Cafe Deutschland"
Cafe Deutschland, 1978
© Jörg Immendorff, Düsseldorf
  

Jörg Immendorff:
from the series "Cafe Deutschland"
Cafe Deutschland, 1978
© Jörg Immendorff, Düsseldorf


In this context, Jörg Immendorff’s series Café Deutschland stands for an individual German historical painting. What initially sparked the work was Immendorff’s trip to East Berlin, where he met A.R. Penck, who was living in Dresden at the time. The painting series that ensued became a conscious counter-image to Renato Guttoso’s famous Café Greco, turning against its politicizing realism that had exerted a strong influence on Socialist Realism in the German Democratic Republic from the sixties onwards. The paper works shown in the exhibition served Immendorff as studies for his large-format paintings that depicted the private East/West conflict between the two artist friends in an exemplary way. In his involvement with Penck, Immendorff questioned the ideologically influenced confrontation between the two power blocs and the father figures and symbols of the German nation, some of which were of dubious character. And this is where he found the material for his unrealized dreams: the Brandenburg Gate with its plummeting Quadriga, the German eagle as nightmare, a Germany covered in ice and still riddled with war tanks. His gouache and acrylic paintings conjugate an entire vocabulary in which private experience and political content overlap. Immendorff’s expressive image puzzles resist both an unequivocal statement and a political interpretation into friend/foe categories.

With their ”subjective” mythologies, A.R.Penck and Georg Baselitz, who had both received their art education in the GDR, reacted to the smooth consumerist world of the economic wonderland West Germany. Already in the early sixties, a manner of painting arose with a pictorial language that played with signs, placing itself in opposition to the hegemony of abstract art. A radical departure from Conceptual and Minimal Art, however, which were seen as overly intellectualized, only occurred later, with the emergence of the Junge Wilde in the early eighties.

With their figuration grounded in subjectivity and their fierce gestures, these artists opposed the habitual conventions of the art establishment. Thus, the exhibitions of the Cologne artists’ group Mühlheimer Freiheit, to which Walter Dahn, Peter Bömmels (interview in db-art.info 1 here), and Jirí Georg Dokoupil belonged, undermined the public’s expectations: their works were piled up to the ceiling, tacked directly to the wall, or leaned up against it. The reassessment of values that Punk had long since brought to the music scene had finally captured art, as well.



Jiri Georg Dokoupil: untitled, 1984
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002


In Berlin, like-minded personages were easily found. In an exhibition shown in 1980 in Berlin’s Haus am Waldsee, in which Rainer Fetting, Helmut Middendorf, Salomé, and Bernd Zimmer took part, the term ”Heftige Malerei” was coined for the first time. The artists’ cooperative gallery on Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg as well as Salomé’s Punk band Geile Tiere quickly achieved cult status and became fixed parts of the Berlin scene.



Karl Horst Hödicke: untitled, 1979
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002


The proponents of Heftige Malerei referred back to the classical Expressionism of Die Brücke and Oskar Kokoschka as well as the figurative oeuvre of their ”teachers.” This break with conventions would never have been conceivable without the influence of Baselitz, Höckelmann, Hödicke, Krieg, or Lüpertz. Common projects developed out of a close contact with the music scene. With its Punk and New Wave concerts, SO36, founded in Berlin in 1978, became a meeting place for the young Berlin art scene. In 1979, Martin Kippenberger took over the club’s management for one year. Along with musical performances, exhibitions were now put on as well, in which Elvira Bach, for instance, presented her Bathtub Paintings. Transforming her immediate environment into sign-like ciphers, the bathroom served Bach as an intimate point of departure for introspection. From these self-portrayals, she later developed her dominant women figures, presented in this exhibition.



Elvira Bach: Night under Palmtrees,1983
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002


As ironic and subversive as Heftige Malerei was: twenty years later, Il Ritorno dei Giganti documents a condition that makes us contemplative today. Along with Elvira Bach, Ina Barfuß counts among the few women artists who were admitted into the painter’s inner circle of ”giants.”

Maria Morais

Translation: Andrea Scrima