Celebrating the early years of Germany's art rebels

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Georg Baselitz: 'A Green Disruption'

In 1966 Baselitz began to create his so-called fracture paintings, whose motifs seem to have been rearranged from various parts of a tattered photograph. The artist wanted to give the viewer the feeling of injustice and vulnerability, as in this painting from 1967.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Sigmar Polke: 'Circus'

This work by Sigmar Polke from 1966 is one of the rare early matrix images by the artist. The stylistic device, similar to methods used in print pixels, also influenced works of American artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. It became characteristic of Polke's later works.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Anselm Kiefer: 'Belief, Hope, Love'

This work comes from the series of so-called loft paintings, which have biblical and mythological motifs. Painted in 1973, "Faith, Hope, Love" features brown tones that are typical of this group of works. The title is inscribed in the middle of the picture, a characteristic of many of Kiefer's pieces.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Gerhard Richter: 'Cow II'

Richter left East Germany in 1961, shortly before the Berlin wall was built. The painting "Cow II" from 1965 was painted when he was living in West Germany. It is part of a series of images that have been central parts of Richter's oeuvre since 1962.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Georg Baselitz: 'The Forest on its Head'

As a reaction to the conflicting artistic dogmas in East and West over formal illustration and abstraction, Baselitz decided to turn his images upside down. It was an ingenious trick and helped him develop a unique theme, which he continued to explore in his later work. "The Forest on its Head" was painted in 1969.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Sigmar Polke: 'Girlfriends'

In 1965-66, Polke chose a small newspaper photograph clipping for "Girlfriends" — a raster image, or image made of matrix dots. Polke created his own style through shifting half-tone dots. In doing so, he transforms advertising into an artistic message and thus changes the perception of the two bathing ladies.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Anselm Kiefer: 'Heroic Symbols VII'

At age 20 Anselm Kiefer photographed himself making the Hitler salute for the first time in order to paint the scene later. As a young art student, he noticed how a fascination with totalitarianism and with the figures of Mao and Lenin surrounded him at university, and he responded to it in his art. Kiefer explained that he wanted to experience the forbidden gesture physically.

The best early works of Germany's art rebels

Gerhard Richter: 'Swimmers'

In addition to politically charged images, such as those relating to the rearmament of Germany, Gerhard Richter often focused on everyday scenes in his early work in the 60s. This motif came from a black and white photography. Richter projected a slide of the image into canvas, painted it and glazed it in pink.

Richter, Baselitz, Kiefer and Polke are big German names associated with a rebellious trend in 1960s art. An exhibition in Stuttgart, "The Early Years of the Old Masters," highlights their work.

The Stuttgart State Gallery is for the first time presenting works of Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer and Sigmar Polke in a joint exhibition: "The Early Years of the Old Masters." As the title suggests, the show brings together works from the 1960s and 1970s, when Germany, thanks in part to these four hot-shot artists, was firmly back on the art world map.

The four painters undoubtedly rank among the most well-known contemporary artists. Sigmar Polke, who died in 2010, was also a permanent member of this illustrious circle during his lifetime. At auctions, the works of these four artists earn millions of dollars; the paintings of Gerhard Richter (above) are among the most expensive of a living artist ever.

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Sigmar Polke was also one of the big four. He passed away in 2010

A time of change in Germany

In the 1960s, artists began to break up the tired structures of the post-war era, at a time when universities were caught up in student protests. Although the four painters exhibited in Stuttgart described themselves as apolitical, their works were still celebrated abroad as evidence of a Germany that was deling with its Nazi past.

"Their works changed how our country is viewed," German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the opening of the exhibition at the Stuttgart State Gallery. He was referring to how Germany is seen abroad, as well as by those living in the country.

German President Frank-Walter Steimeier visits the exhibition

For the artists themselves, the early 1960s were marked by change. With the exception of Anselm Kiefer, they all came from East Germany but made careers in West Germany. Even before it was open to the public, the Stuttgart exhibition generated criticism. "Does it really mean that you want to sell these gentlemen as the most important artists in the world? What do Jeff Koons and David Hockney say about that?" wrote Monopol, a monthly German art magazine.

Read more: Artist Gerhard Richter feels 'abused' by Germany's Oscar entry  

About 100 early works are on display in Stuttgart from April 12 to August 11. The three surviving artists supported the exhibition by loaning works. A documentary in the gallery's lobby gives an overview of 1960s political events and pop culture. 

tla/sd (dpa/Staatsgalerie Stuttgart/Monopol)

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