Modern Classic – Art after the Second World War
The term “Modern Classic”, which is presented in Hall 2 at art KARLSRUHE, embraces artistic positions that crystallized after the Second World War, along with established positions in Contemporary art.
World War Two also marked a deep caesura in the oeuvre of the artists, for whom it was impossible simply to continue making art where they had left off before the war. Visual artists in Germany faced the twin challenges of reinventing themselves and giving a new direction to their art. The result was a stylistic pluralism that is difficult to summarize. One of the most important impulses came from the USA in the late 1940s: Jackson Pollock’s so-called “Action Paintings” and Robert Rauschenberg’s white canvases opened a broad field of opportunities for German artists.
In Europe, Yves Klein attracted attention with his monochrome blue canvases. He personally mixed the vivid blue paint, for which he was granted a patent. Klein daubed his signature blue hue onto the bodies of nude models, who rolled themselves onto sheets of paper, where they left behind the direct imprints of naked reality. The artist’s “handwriting”, i.e. the personal note that had become progressively more important before the war, was eliminated in the works of the post-war artists. Chance and external influences now became decisive co-determinants of the motif.
Another outstanding artist immediately after the war was the Italian painter Lucio Fontana, who in 1946 initiated the “Manifesto bianco” (“White Manifesto”), which took up the thoughts of the Futurists, suggested a synthesis of painting, sculpture, music and poetry, and called for a turning away from conventional materials. Beginning in 1947 with the manifestos of his “Movimento spaziale” (spatial art), he predicted the end of all static artistic genres, which were to be replaced by a dynamic art. The artwork, which should be effective solely through the power of the viewer’s imagination, was to be freed “from all painterly and propagandistic rhetoric”. Fontana deployed this new spatial concept by perforating his paintings, thus achieving a sculptural quality transcending the two-dimensional artwork. He usually pierced the patterns of holes into monochrome pictures, which had no surrounding frames to impose limits on their surfaces.
The early 1960s coincided with the first Fluxus events in Germany. The term “Fluxus” is derived from the Latin word fluere, which means “flow”. Fluxus can be traced to the artist George Maciunas from the USA, who gave the movement its name. Wolf Vostell, who founded this artistic trend in Germany, believed that art is life and life is art. In this intermingling flow of life and art, the artists turned away from paintings and toward happenings. The artists of the Fluxus movement intended to dissolve conventions, sometimes in the literal sense of the word. For example, at the “Fluxus” event in Darmstadt in 1967, Joseph Beuys created a “Fettraum” [“Fat Room”] filled with 375 packages of margarine and flooded with a soundtrack of atonal music. Nam June Paik filled a chamber pot with paint, dipped his head into it, and then drew his head across a strip of paper.
Another style likewise came from the USA: Pop Art. No other trend in the history of 20th-century art so decisively shaped the notions of aesthetics, design, and the American way of life – because no other artistic form of expression had become so intimately involved in the daily life of an entire generation and far beyond that generation. To the same degree that industrial society’s world of media and merchandise suddenly became a new theme for art in the late 1950s, Pop Art now made art into a theme for society.
The mechanisms of Pop Art are still effective today. This is not solely evident in the fact that many of today’s artists, e.g. Jeff Koons or Keith Haring, see themselves as successors to the great Pop Art artists. Equally strong is the interest shown by audiences in exhibitions featuring the leading protagonists of this style, e.g. Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg or Robert Indiana, to name only a few. Works by nearly all of these artists are on display at art KARLSRUHE.
These are just a few examples of artistic positions after the Second World War that formatively shaped the oeuvre of today’s artists.