Art in East Germany was regarded as an instrument of political expression and education by the socialist regime and thus subject to censorship and state control. Since the fall of the Wall, a number of exhibitions have addressed the question of artists’ creative responses to these constraints.
The new exhibition at Museum Barberini in Potsdam does something different and looks at East German art from a new perspective. Read on to find out what’s ‘Behind the Mask’.
New Perspectives – Artists in the GDR
Talking about art and artists in East Germany also means talking about the political pressures that shaped the conditions under which these artists worked.
However, a new exhibition at Museum Barberini takes a different approach to East German art by placing the question of self-perception and self-projection at the centre of interest. The exhibition presents over 100 works of art by around 80 individual artists to showcase a wide range of artistic responses to the government’s insistence on regulating art as an instrument of political expression and education.
A. R. Penck: Ich (eng: “I”), 1970, private collection through Neues Museum. Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design, Nürnberg, Photo: Stiftung Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen, © VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn 2017
Under these constraints, how did artists see themselves, their colleagues, their environment and their role as artists in a socialist society? Where were they able to carve out spaces for artistic freedom and creative expression in defiance of state control?
Erika Stürmer-Alex: Selbstporträt (eng: “self-portrait”), 1981, owned by artist, Photo: Joachim Richau, Berlin, © VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn 2017
In an effort to start exploring the museum’s own collection of East German art, the exhibition presents paintings, photographs, graphic artworks, collages and sculptures that suggest answers to these questions.
About Museum Barberini and Its Collection
Housed in a newly restored late 18th century building commissioned by Frederick the Great and inspired by the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, Museum Barberini taps into a proud tradition of showcasing art and culture in the heart of Potsdam, close to St Nicholas’ Church and the historic Town Hall.
From the mid-19th century onwards, the building served as popular venue for concerts, lectures and early film screening.
The palace’s demolition in the wake of severe damage sustained during an aerial raid in World War II was a great loss for Potsdam.
Trak Wendisch: Seiltänzer (eng: “tightrope walkers”), 1984, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Photo: bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB / Jörg P. Anders, © VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn 2017
In 2005, following a referendum, the regional government decided to restore the palace. Funded by the Hasso Plattner Foundation created by the eponymous entrepreneur and philanthropist, the restoration project started in 2013 and was completed in 2016. The foundation has been curating the museum’s exhibitions since its public opening in January 2017.
East German art and post-reunification German art are the twin pillars on which the foundation’s collection rests. This includes artworks by members of the Leipzig School as well as the ‘Old Masters’ and 21st century art. The foundation also owns a number of works by impressionist painters including Claude Monet, Edvard Munch and Auguste Renoir.
Paintings from the Palace
‘Behind the Mask. Artists in the GDR’ runs alongside a documentary exhibition displaying 16 large paintings on loan from the Palace of the Republic’s art gallery that provide a great introduction to government-sponsored art as a symbol of socialist power. The two exhibitions complement each other perfectly – seen together, they offer illuminating insights into the production of artistic expression in socialist East Germany from two very different vantage points.
Bernhard Heisig: Ikarus, 1975, loan of the Federal Republic of Germany, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017
‘Behind the Mask. Artists in the GDR’ runs from 29 October 2017 to 4 February 2018.
Entry is free for children and young people under the age of 18