German art now

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Hansjoerg Dobliar, collage, detail

After the embrace of figuration exemplified at the turn of the new century by international interest in the Leipzig School, a decade later, abstraction is a growing concern for many young German artists, with particular emphasis on its modernist roots.

These interests aren't just localised. Abstract painting is very much on the ascent throughout Europe and in the US, while the influence of modernism is also widespread and occasionally surprising - we've identified its fundamental importance to a newly emerging trend of art as narration, for example.

Yet for Germans in particular, adoption of early 20th century forms has a special significance.

Leipzig's glory was at least in part a kind of lamentation; the vestiges of the former DDR revivified through a style exemplifying the figurative precision of socialist realism.

At a time when many Germans were still struggling with the impact of their country's reunification, such work represented the living relic of an era in German history lost forever.

Today's accent on modernism represents an entirely different form of nostalgia, a more confident, optimistic reflection of the artistic vitality of Germany at the dawn of the last century and its enormous contribution to the progressive avant garde.

This interest, of course, is offset by pluralism and idiosyncracy, with a wealth of young artists attempting to forge individual idioms in ways that often incorporate specifically current concerns, such as the proliferation of technology, or commercial status of art, or even an apparent rejection of both.

Whatever the reading, the dynamism of German practice again looks set to exert its influence on a second decade of 21st century art.


Kitty Kraus

German art now - Kitty Kraus

Kitty Kraus's works add up to far more than the sum of their straightforward parts. Apparently understated, Kraus masterfully imbues humble materials with high degrees of unsettling drama.

Panes of glass, for example, are arranged into simple geometric structures that merge almost imperceptibly with the space in which they are installed.

Held together with nothing more substantial than sticking tape, the edges of each pane are left treacherously ragged.

This precarious equilibrium takes on sinister overtones: three panes of glass approximate an arch, the sheet placed above two outer 'walls' bending ominously under its own weight (left).

In other works, lightbulbs on cables are frozen inside large blocks of black ink. Once plugged in, melting ink flows across the floor as an unmediated drawing. Yet this liquid river's connection to a power supply also makes it potentially deadly (the bulbs, too, have a tendency to explode).

German art now - Kitty Kraus

By comparison, Kraus' series of mirror lamps (below) appear less inately threatening. Consisting of roughly constructed mirrored cubes illuminated from within, small gaps emit entrancing patterns of kaleidoscopic light.

Yet even here there's an inbuilt booby-trap. Alhough some lamps function normally, others contain 500-watt bulbs that overheat the mirrored interior and cause the cube to explode.

Kraus' apparent minimalism is primed for maximum impact - and a troublingly dark, unsanitised undercurrent that belies its insubstantial form.

German artists today - Kitty Kraus
images © Kitty Kraus

Claudia Wieser

German art now - Claudia Wieser

Working with various types of ceramics, wall murals and sculpture as well as works on paper, Berlin-based Wieser investigates architectural space and the ways it has been - and can be - defined, adorned and filled.

Her most obvious visual references are to early modernist movements: expressionism, geometric abstraction, and the aesthetic ideals of the Bauhaus, the inclusive concerns of which are reflected through her own fusion of applied and fine arts.

Yet despite such evident homage to early 20th century practices, Wieser's art and design influences are highly varied, encompassing objects or themes as diverse as Renaissance lace, Expressionist film, Art Deco or 18th century stairways.

Such interests are explored not only in the production of tangible artworks, but through the complex connections Wieser weaves between them - a highly personal system of reference often made evident through her works on paper.

German art now - Claudia Wieser
images © Claudia Wieser

These include pages taken from vintage books on architecture, texts, or her own drawings, all of which mediate the evolution and installation of her work.

Transforming gallery space into architectonic interiors, Wieser interrogates modernist ideals regarding design as art precisely by making art that is about design: its histories, influences and possibilities.


Benjamin Saurer

Benjamin Saurer

Alternating between near-empty canvases framing detailed vignettes, or richly decorative work in which exotic fabrics become part of the composition, Saurer's paintings inhabit an unusual space reminiscent of Persian or Mughal miniatures - an impression that's reinforced by the constant depiction of dimunitive figures and objects.

From another viewpoint, Saurer's works resemble theatrical sets peopled with casts of tiny characters - a reading that accords with his own interest in the satirical operettas of 19th century composer Offenbach.

Subjects as well as titles for paintings are taken from sources ranging from newspapers to religious tracts, materials from which Saurer teases subtly nuanced narratives.

images © Benjamin Saurer

Das Wasser wird immer saurer (The water is getting increasingly sour), left, depicts a beached whale gaped at by a crowd of onlookers in 17th century costume.

The scene reminds us of the present ecological threat to marine life, as well as hinting at a time when the whale may once again become a curiosity, a seldom seen, almost mythical creature.

While not all of Saurer's paintings render meaning as easily, titles such as Am Schweinetrog (At the pigs' trough) or Der Himmel voller Arschlocher (Heaven full of arseholes) leave little doubt as to the scathing extent of his satire, a dissection of human fallibility that pivots around classic oppositions such as innocence and guilt, cynicism and sincerity.

The most obvious - and most powerful - of Saurer's oppositional strategies, however, is his deceptively ornate style, a picture book, exoticised surface that reflects our own tendency to gloss over life's harsher realities.

It's an approach which, just like Offenbach's musical protests, couches hard-hitting comment in entrancing, lyrical form.


Hansjörg Dobliar

German contemporary artk: Hansjoerg Dobliar

(Yet) Another young German artist gleaning inspiration from various modernist movements, Dobliar's practice encompasses painting, collage and sculpture.

While engaging most obviously with systems of geometry and colour aligned to Bauhaus and suprematist sentiment, Dobliar's work is infused, too, with expressionist traits; many of his apparently abstract paintings, for example, hover close to figuration, assuming the appearance of emotionally charged landscapes.

This apparent focus on specific historical precedent is, however, complicated by Dobliar's collages and works on paper, which introduce imagery appropriated from wide-ranging areas and epochs of cultural production.

New German painting

Newspapers, period magazines, prints and photographs provide a platform for interventions which, unlike Dobliar's paintings and sculptures, vary considerably in form. Although often re-worked with his characteristic geometries, other examples approximate the Dada compositions of, say, Hannah Höch, or (increasingly) are as minimal as the application of a strip of tape or a few painted lines.

The results, rather like the paintings of Michael Bauer (below) emphasise a body of work in which particular historical associations are made manifest only to be revoked and confounded.

German contemporary art: Hansjoerg Dobliar
images © Hansjörg Dobliar

While Dobliar clearly looks backwards in time, his adoption of past idioms is motivated by a desire to harness art's most dynamic movements in order to complicate and invigorate the valency of his own, very contemporary work.


Christof Mascher

contemporary German painting: Christof Mascher

Mascher's vision of surreal fantasy - "a dreamworld which I myself have created or discovered" - makes for intoxicating viewing.

Beautifully composed and rendered, Mascher's expressive canvases merge apparent naivety with darker, more ominous forces.

new contemporary painting - Christof Mascher
images © Christof Mascher

Of particular interest are his references, which, apart from heavyweights such as Paul Klee or Bosch, include, rather curiously, the arcade games he played as a child.

This influence makes itself increasingly evident, with the panoramas he evokes primed for sword-and-sorcery-style confrontation, the illustrative rendering of his other-worlds owing as much to digital technology as to that other, more old-fashioned childhood stalwart, the fantasy picture book.


Michael Bauer

Michael Bauer, contemporary German art

Abstraction? Figuration? Portraiture? In the work of Michael Bauer, all these possibilities are yoked together to create paintings that revel in a wayward fusion of incongruities.

Earlier in his career, Bauer's hybrid approach was used to create creepily anthropomorphic forms: eyes peer from soupy smudges; limb or tentacle-like protuberances extend from masses oddly punctuated with carefully rendered pattern or pseudo-insignia.

More recently, Bauer has adopted stylistic tropes reminiscent of modernism, besmirching their clarity with murky puddles of colour or thickly crusted paint.

Michael Bauer
images © Michael Bauer

Rendered on grounds of stained sepia-greys, there's an artful sense of age about these works.

It's an appearance which echoes a device often used to surround his images, a daubed border reminiscent of ancient, torn paper.

Both evoke the notion of a long-lived palimpsest; a document whose multiple authors, layers, meanings and moods forlornly negate each other, yet somehow, in combination, achieve a grim beauty.


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