Maria Lassnig, Gynäkologie, (1963), Oil on Canvas, 71 x 291 cm, Foto: Mischa Nawrata, Wien, © Sammlung Essl Privatstiftung, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 2428.

The Masters Who Reinvigorated German Painting in the 20th Century

Georg Baselitz, Lenin auf der Tribüne (Gerasimov), 1999, Öl auf Leinwand, 250 x 200 cm, © Georg Baselitz, Foto: Mischa Nawrata, Wien.

Georg Baselitz, Vier Streifen Jäger (Remix), 2007, Oil on canvas, 300 x 250 cm, Foto: Jochen Littkemann, Berlin, © Georg Baselitz, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 5735.

Maria Lassnig, Abwehr, 2000, Oil on canvas, 206 x 153 cm, Foto: Archiv Sammlung Essl, © Sammlung Essl Privatstiftung, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 4456.

Markus Lüpertz, Rückenakt, 2006, Oil on canvas, 190 x 130 cm, Foto: Archiv Sammlung Essl, © Markus Lüpertz, courtesy Galerie Michael Werner Köln und New York, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 5619.


Essl Museum
An der Donau-Au 1
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Gallery Rooms
Baselitz to Lassnig – Masterpieces
February 22-May 25, 2008

Although often declared dead in the 20th century, painting is more alive than ever. In the 1960s and 1970s conceptual art, happenings, Fluxus, video and the use of new media seemed the only thing to do, and this trend was partly corroborated by the 1990s.

The consistent and powerful work of German artists such as Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke and Austrian painters such as Maria Lassnig and Arnulf Rainer has demonstrated, however, that painting is a medium that offers an infinity of forward-looking opportunities.

Georg Baselitz (born January 23, 1938) studied in the former East Germany, before moving to what was then the country of West Germany. Baselitz's style is Neo-Expressionist from a North American perspective, but from a European point of view, it is considered more as postmodern. His career was kick-started in the 1960s after police action against one of his paintings, Die große Nacht im Eimer, because of its provocative, offending sexual nature. Baselitz is one of the world's best-selling living artists. He is a professor at the renowned Hochschule der Künste in Berlin.

Maria Lassnig (born September 8 1919 in Krappfeld Kappel, Carinthia, Austria) is considered one of the more succcessful Austrian artist of the 20th century. She is probably best-known for her Körpergefühlsmalerei (gestural body painting). In 1941 Lassnig studied in Wilhelm Dachauer's master class at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, which was classified by the Nazis as a "degenerate" zone in 1943. She graduated with Andri Ferdinand and Herbert Boeckl in 1945 and the same year. returns to Klagenfurt, where in 1948 she had her first solo exhibition that included the "body awareness drawings" and small surreal figurines.

Markus Lüpertz (born Reichenberg, 25 April 1941), a contemporary German painter and sculptor has been rector of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, an art academy in Germany for over twenty years, In the 1960s, he worked primarily in Berlin, moving on to take a professorship at Karlsruhe in the 1970s, then to Düsseldorf. During his early career as a painter, he won the 1970 Prize from Villa Romana and the 1971 German Association of Critics Prize. As a writer, he has been editing his own journal since 2003, called Frau und Hund of which two editions in other languages have appeared (Signora e cane, in Italian, and Femme et Chien, in French).

Anselm Kiefer (born March 8, 1945, Donaueschingen) studied with Joseph Beuys during the 1970s. His works incorporate materials like straw, ash, clay, lead, and shellac. The poems of Paul Celan have played a role in developing Kiefer's themes of German history and the horror of the Holocaust, as have the theological concepts of Kabbalah. Kiefer ranks among the best-known and most successful, but also most disputed German artists after World War II. In his entire body of work, Kiefer argues with the past and addresses taboo and controversial issues from recent history. Themes from Nazi rule are particularly reflected in his work; for instance, the painting Margarethe (oil and straw on canvas) was inspired by Paul Celan's well-known poem Todesfuge (Death Fugue). His works are characterised by a dull/musty, nearly depressive, destructive style and are often done in large scale formats. In most of his works, the use of photography as an output surface is prevalent and earth and other raw materials of nature are often incorporated. It is also characteristic of his work to find signatures and/or names of humans, legendary figures or places particularly pregnant with history in nearly all of his paintings. All of these are encoded sigils through which Kiefer seeks to process the past; this often gets him linked with a style called New Symbolism.

Sigmar Polke (born February 13, 1941), a post-modern German painter and photographer, was born in Oels in Lower Silesia. He fled with his family to Thuringia in 1945 during the Expulsion of Germans after World War II. His family escaped from the Communist regime in East Germany in 1953, traveling first to West Berlin and then to Düsseldorf. On his arrival in Wittich, West Germany, Polke began to spend time in galleries and museums and worked as an apprentice in a stained glass factory called Dusseldorf Kaiserswerth, before entering Kunstakademie Düsseldorf at age 20. From 1961-1967 he studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Karl Otto Goetz and Gerhard Hoehme and began his creative output during a time of enormous social, cultural, and artistic changes in Germany and elsewhere. During the 1960s, Düsseldorf, in particular, was a prosperous, commercial city and an important center of artistic activity. In 1963 Polke founded Kapitalistischen Realismus (Capitalistic Realism), a painting movement with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg (later called Konrad Fischer). It is an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial short-hand of advertising. This title also referred to the realist style of art known as Socialist Realism, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union (from which he had fled with his family), but it also commented upon the consumer-driven art doctrine of western capitalism. He also participated in Demonstrative Ausstellung, a store-front exhibition in Düsseldorf with Kuttner, Lueg, and Richter.

Arnulf Rainer (born 8 December 1929 in Baden, Austria), is an Austrian painter and is best-known internationally for his abstract informal art. In his early years, Rainer was influenced by Surrealism. In 1950, he founded the Hundsgruppe (dog group) together with Ernst Fuchs, Arik Brauer and Josef Mikl. After 1954, Rainer's style evolved towards Destruction of Forms, with blackenings, overpaintings and maskings of illustrations and photographs, dominating his later work. He was close to the Vienna Actionism, featuring body art and painting under drug influence. In 1978, he received the Great Austrian National Prize. In the same year, and in 1980, he became the Austrian representative at the Venice Biennale. From 1981 to 1995, Rainer held a professorship at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna — the same place where he aborted his own studies after three days, unsatisfied. His works are shown in the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. As the culmination of the appraisal of his work, in 1993 the Arnulf Rainer Museum opened in New York.

Gerhard Richter (born February 9, 1932 in Dresden, Saxony) is considered by some as one of the most important German artists of the post-World War II period. He grew up in Reichenau, Lower Silesia, and in Waltersdorf in the Upper Lusatian countryside. He left school after tenth grade to apprentice as an advertising and stage-set painter, before studying at the Dresden Art Academy. In 1948 he entered the higher professional school in Zittau and, between 1949 and 1951, was trained there in writing as well as in stage and advertising painting. In 1950 his application for membership in the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Dresden University of Visual Arts, founded in 1764) was rejected, but he finally began study at the Dresden Academy of Arts in 1951. His teachers were Karl von Appen, Ulrich Lohmar and Will Grohmann. In the early days of his career he prepared a wall painting, Communion with Picasso, 1955, for the refectory of the Academy of Arts as part of his B.A. A further mural followed within the Hygienemusem (German Hygienic Museum) with the title Lebensfreude (Joy of life) for his diploma.

These artists have developed inimitable, powerful and divergent approaches, have explored their subjects, negated them, put them upside down, and thus given a multiplicity of subjective painters’ comments on reality.

This was the generation of painters that marked the young painters in the early 1980s and late 1990s. The Essl Collection holds seminal works by these painters from all their periods of work.

Sigmar Polke, Indianer mit Adler, Detail, 2006, Enamel spray on Lurex, 180 x 149 cm, Photo: Archiv Sammlung Essl, © Sigmar Polke, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 3654.