Utopia and Demise. Art in the GDR

30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf stages a major special exhibition of art created in the German Democratic Republic.

5 September 2019 - 19 January 2020

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30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the Kunstpalast stages a major exhibition of art from the German Democratic Republic. The exhibition comprising more than 130 paintings and works on paper by 13 artists explores an artistic era that was charged with tension and often contradictory.

Until 1990, art from the GDR was frequently shown in the Federal Republic. In the past decades, however, audiences in the west have rarely had the opportunity to view originals. The exhibition presents several principal works by the artists Bernhard Heisig, Wolfgang Mattheuer, Werner Tübke and Willi Sitte, who since the documenta 1977 exhibition were perceived as official GDR painters, and offers more profound insight into their artistic work.

After the Second World War, many artists of all generations, among them Elisabeth Voigt and Wilhelm Lachnit, grappled with the strict principles of socialist realism. Frequently, they developed their artistic strategies under considerable pressure, working in seclusion, as did Carlfriedrich Claus and Gerhard Altenbourg, or in rebellious opposition to the state, among them A. R. Penck and Cornelia Schleime. Like many artists with a GDR background, Penck later became professor at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. Angela Hampel’s punky-expressive female figures, as well as existentialist paintings by Michael Morgners and abstract works by Hermann Glöckner, once termed the “Patriarch of Modernity”, illustrate the wide stylistic diversity.
All of these artists took, and are still taking, very different but invariably independent approaches – between rebellion and conformism, between utopia and demise.
Alongside work from the collections of Peter Ludwig and Willi Kemp, who supported GDR artists early on, the exhibition will present loans from all important museums in eastern Germany.


Curator: Steffen Krautzig

Sponsor: Kunststiftung NRW





Wolfgang Mattheuer | Die Flucht des Sisyphos. 1972, Öl auf Hartfaserplatte, 96,8 x 118 cm, Albertinum | Galerie Neue Meister, Gal.-Nr. 3929 © Foto: Albertinum | Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Elke Estel/Hans-Peter Klut