How artists reacted to an unstable postwar world | Arts | DW | 14.10.2016
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How artists reacted to an unstable postwar world

1945: the world lies in ruins and is only beginning to settle to the reality of the Cold War. The "Postwar" exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich highlights art in the turbulent years after World War II.

World War II shook the world like no other previous conflict, killing and injuring countless people, traumatizing the world through the Holocaust's systematic murder of millions of Jews and the nuclear bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The postwar era was marked by the uncertainty of the Cold War and a potential nuclear conflict. 

The exhibition "Postwar: art between the Pacific and Atlantic, 1945 - 1965," on show at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, focuses for the first time on the artistic perspective of this era.

Art against the backdrop of a new world order

With the balance of global power significantly changed after the war, there was also a significant shift in the world of arts during this period. With European countries having lost their global sphere of influence, popular culture and contemporary art alike found a new home in the US - at least in the West.

The ideological schism in the world at large was equally omnipresent in art, as the Cold War divided the world into two camps, with abstraction as a driving force in Western art and Socialist Realism defining the major influence of the East.

Capitalism and Communism had found their respective homes in this new world order, albeit in a simplified sense, which often failed to highlight what kinds of social and political issues really motivated artists to create new works.

Beyond polarization between the Eastern and Western blocs, independence movements and decolonization added to the complexity of the world's political landscape, be it in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. Ideas such as pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism flourished in this context.

Influence on art was global

The show examines the manifestation of these new directions in art, while demonstrating how politics and art intertwined.

Haus der Kunst Ausstellung Postwar Sigmar Polke (The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016)

Artist Sigmar Polke's rasterized portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald, J.F.Kennedy's assassin

Featuring more than 350 works of art, including paintings, collages, films, installations and performances by 218 artists from 68 countries, the exhibition explores major questions of this era, such as: How did politics influence the aesthetics of the time? How did artists use their craft to undermine political pressure? What reactions did intellectuals and critics have to an ever-changing political landscape reflected through art?

The show provides a global overview of the art of that era, beyond Occidental modern artists such as Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman or Ernst Wilhelm Nay, by including works of Middle Eastern, Asian and African artists, such as Fahrelnissa Zeid, Ahmed Cherkaoui or Siah Armajani.

 "Postwar: art between the Pacific and Atlantic, 1945 - 1965" is held in the Haus der Kunst in Munich from October 14, 2016 until March 26, 2017.


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