German Art at The Saatchi Gallery

Volker Hueller - Wohin-Sehen 2009 Etching with watercolour and shellac

I’ve visited this show a few times now but still find it slightly disappointing. It’s not that the work on show is bad or uninspiring, for the most part (as with great German art) it’s impressive, energetic & fun, but that’s where the problems begin.


The majority of the work quotes the masters of German Modernism and as a result languishes in the shadow of their stature. Walking through Saatchi’s ‘Temple of Art’ the rooms echo brief flavours of Kirchner & Heckel , Paul Klee with a touch of Picasso, the Merz of Schwitters and flashes of the 1980’s stars Kippenberger, Penck and Kiefer. Unfortunately the contemporary German artist has a massive pedigree to follow and I’m not sure that this grouping manages to cope with it.

Gert & Uwe Tobias - Untitled 2009 (detail) Woodcut on paper on canvas

  Increases in scale fail to make up for what appears to be a lack of the conviction and belief that drove their illustrious predecessors,  serving only to emphasize the appearance of disconnection and dissilusion and thereby creating an emotional gulf between the artist and viewer.

For a country that brought us the personal, national and globally difinitive portrayal of modernist angst through the images of the Expressionists there is a distinct lack of emotion in the works on show.  Maybe there is truth in the idea that great art is produced during times of national hardship and political unrest (even with the current Euro crisis Germany is still in a comfortable position – but does this mean that we should expect a flowering of contemporary Greek art?).

André Butzer - Ahnenbild 2411 2006 (detail) oil on canvas

My criticism rests mainly with the curators of the show and not with the individual artists, as the inherent nature of a ‘Saatchi Show’ aims to promote the next movement in art. With a template evolved from the ‘production’ of ‘BritArt’ the gallery attempts to provide an eager art world with the next thing. Unfortunately for this show Twentieth Century German Art has a greater cultural clout than the 1960’s British Pop that the BritArt generation took on and with the title ‘GESAMTKUNSTWERK’ (Total work of art): NEW ART FROM GERMANY one expects great things.

With all that said there must be a reason why I have visited the show so many times – that would be the individual artists. If you can lose the idea of the curated show and see the work as a number of solo shows then you are in for a treat.

One of my favourite discoveries is Gert & Uwe Tobias – producing large scale coloured woodcuts, looking like the offspring of Klee & Murakami they delightfully explore the last century’s art with an awe inspiring sense of colour. The format of crossing other artists to explain the work on show continues with another favourite André Butzer – this time it’s a mix of Munch & Basquait. Butzer’s lively paintings have the feel of a schoolboy who’s stolen an art book and begins manically scribbling his favourite images across a museum wall. The effect is engrossing, his marks displaying his obvious enjoyment – yet one feel’s he’s only playing with the angst for effect.

Markus Selg - Searching For Ruwenzori 2010 Sublimation print on fabric

Another favourite is Alexandra Bircken, an artist I’d not seen before but on each visit her work has fascinated me. With objects suspended within a free-standing steel frame – looking like evidence from a crime placed on an invisible blackboard they bring to mind the displayed remnants of Beuys’ performance leftovers, and they the same feel of shamanic ritual (especially in ‘Drape’ 2007).

In my opinion the show itself is confusing in its premise but the individual works in it make this a must see experience – I for one shall be returning.



is at The Saatchi gallery – 18th Nov 2011 – 15th Apr 2012


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