Back to the future: German art and the modernist revival

Modernist tendencies and contemporary practice

German art and modernist influences - Thomas Zipp

It's impossible not to notice that abstraction is enjoying renewed prominence in current western art; it's also clear that in Germany, this revival draws substantially on the early 20th century movements from which abstract painting first emerged.

It's an emphasis which, historically at least, is certainly fitting.

A century has now passed since the flurry of extraordinary energy which led, in the short period from 1907 to 1919, to the development of expressionism, futurism, cubism, de Stijl, constructivism, suprematism, Dada and the foundation of the Bauhaus - and this is a list which is far from exhaustive.

The re-emergence of a visual language gleaned from these formidable movements - with particular emphasis, unsurprisingly, on those most closely associated with Germany's own artistic history - almost seems a case of spontaneous, centennial homage. Yet if such influences are obvious, the point at which they began to form a recognisable tendency in current German art is less so.

The work of Thomas Zipp (above and below), whose first solo show took place in 1998, has always attempted to create connections between the early 20th century and the present.

His syncretic amalgamation of references gleaned from history, politics, science and philosophy hint at the possibility of unusual insights through apparently oppositional juxtaposition.

Modernism and German art now - Thomas Zipp
images © Thomas Zipp

Presented within a framework of art historical allusion, Zipp reveals a pronounced fascination with various modes of modernism ranging from constructivism to Dada.


Markus Amm, London-based although well-known in his homeland, was also an early adopter of explicitly modernist motifs.

His 1999 series of photograms revive a technique in which photographic paper is exposed to light in order to create 'negative' images of objects placed on top of it (below).

Popularised by photographers such as Man Ray, it was also used extensively by the Hungarian artist Lazlo Moholy-Nagy who, in 1923, became a lecturer at the Bauhaus, the famous institute predicated on a revolutionary synthesis of industrial design and the arts.

The influence of the Bauhaus on recent German art - Markus Amm
images © Markus Amm

Lazlo's appointment was especially significant in that he was heavily influenced by Russian constructivism, an enthusiasm which would permeate the Bauhaus itself and impact heavily on subsequent development of German art throughout the 1920s.

Although Amm's early photograms refer more obviously to the expressionist tendencies that governed early Bauhaus production, his own practice would also show growing constructivist influence.

Recent German art and modernist tendencies - Katja Strunz
images © Katja Strunz

Katja Strunz, whose sculpture, installations and collages are inspired by what she terms "the aftermath" of 20th century history, began to exhibit in 2001. Like Amm, her work showed early signs of allegiance to abstract geometries, again with a particular debt to expressionistic form.

Indeed, there are striking similarities between Strunz's sleek, angular sculptural works and Walter Gropius' own 'Monument to the March Dead' (below).

Designed in 1919 and constructed in 1920, it is one of Gropius' few extant early works (destroyed by the Nazis, it was later replaced with a near-replica).

Recent German art and modernist tendencies - Walter Gropius monument
Walter Gropius: Monument to the March Dead, 1919-20

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