Detail of Nibelungen (Nibelung), a triptych by Lutz Dammbeck. (Image courtesy of LACMA.)
Take a culture. Fill it with the desire to build empire. Then put it through a vicious trench war. Follow this with a period of cultural openness and decadence. Afterwards, hand control over to a bunch of genocidal maniacs. Bomb it to a rubble. Divide it between East and West. Then put it back together. That, in an oversimplified nutshell, is the history of Germany in the 20th century. We are all familiar with the political implications of this back-and-forth. But what kind of art is produced by a nation that is built and destroyed and built again, each time in a somewhat different guise? The answer to that question lies in the jaw-dropping exhibit, The Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures, at LACMA, in Los Angeles.
This sprawling show, curated by Stephanie Barron, covers 44 years of 20th century German history, from 1945-1989. It begins in the immediate aftermath of World War II, taking viewers through the eras of the Nuremberg trials, its Solomonic split, as well as the subsequent periods of tumult and soul-searching. There are artists famous (George Baselitz, Gerhard Richter, Martin Kippenberger, et al.) and unknown (Hermann Glockner) — many of them struggling to come to terms with who and what they represent. It is heart-breaking, appalling and totally edifying all at the same time.
This will be the exhibit’s only U.S. showing (it travels to Germany afterwards), so if you are anywhere near the L.A. area, it would be a crying shame to miss it. You’ve got ’til April 19.
As always, a few extras:
- A historic timeline related to the exhibit.
- An interview with Stephanie Barron.
- Christopher Knight’s review in the L.A. Times. (He thinks the giant chocolate sculpture was nauseating. I think it smelled kinda good…)
- And because I will never lose an opportunity to link to a video that shows Teutons prancing around in lederhosen.