Contemporary German Art: Selections from the Permanent Collection

May 3, 2013 - September 7, 2013
Garen Gallery

One of the characteristics of St. Louis art collections, private as well as public, is an extraordinary wealth of modern and contemporary artworks that were made in Germany. Recently the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum was particularly fortunate to receive a major gift from James M. Kemper, Jr., and the David Woods Memorial Foundation that was designated for the acquisition of contemporary German art, further strengthening the Museum’s holdings in this area. In conjunction with the opening in summer 2013 of the nearby Saint Louis Art Museum's new expansion, in which major artworks from their German art collection will be featured, the Kemper Art Museum will present selections from its own rich collection of contemporary German art, including works by Franz Ackermann, Thomas Bayrle, Cosima von Bonin, Isa Genzken, and Andreas Gursky, among others.

Although all of the selected artworks were conceived within the context of a post-1990 reunified democratic Germany, none overtly dwells on German history or national identity. Nor do they demonstrate a shared visual style, as did the work of the so-called German neo-Expressionists of the 1980s. Rather, the artists whose works are on view strongly underscore their own artistic voices and individual concerns. Notwithstanding similarities, these artworks are principally borne out of difference.

Some of these artists, such as Franz Ackermann and the late Michel Majerus, expanded the medium of painting into the realm of installation art, endowing it with presence and stability that counters the effects of the digital revolution while also monumentalizing our hybrid contemporaneity, signifying the global age. Others, such as Corinne Wasmuht, redo the history of postmodernist painting by transforming appropriation into entirely new image worlds. Concentrating on slowness as a means to conceive and perceive painting, Wasmuht’s project is invested in the act of seeing.

Also evident in the exhibition is the inclusion of the everyday into the realm of art. While Manfred Pernice challenges the readymade as impromptu memorial, Isa Genzken’s use of bits and pieces of the materials of daily life bestows otherwise anonymous sculptures with individuality. And Cosima von Bonin and Sergej Jensen both create objects made out of commonplace textiles, although their approaches are quite different: Jensen reworks the legacy of collage and found object artists such as Kurt Schwitters, while von Bonin provocatively employs stitching, dark humor, and hermetic meaning to further complicate boundaries between everyday culture and so-called high art.

And as much as the medium of painting is turned upside down and inside out, so too is the practice of photography, to the extent that large-scale photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans are even created without the use of a camera. Pushing photography in the opposite direction, Thomas Demand’s sculptural approach results in photographs that lack an existing referent. It is also obliterated in Andreas Gursky’s digital universe, which consists of meticulous montages of analog photographs that ultimately create an image both fictional and grounded in what we call “the real.”

Contemporary German Art is curated by Sabine Eckmann, William T. Kemper director and chief curator. It will be on view from May 3, 2013, to September 7, 2013.

Read the Press Release >>

Exhibition support

Support for Contemporary German Art: Selections from the Permanent Collection is provided by James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; the William T. Kemper Foundation; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

Media links

- Contemporary German Art: Selections from the Permanent Collection press release (April 15, 2013)