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Martin Kobe painting of a room, untitled
Works by the Leipzig School painters are highly collectibleImage: Liga-Galerie

Modern Art

Sabine Oelze (jen)
February 5, 2009

Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, and Joerg Immendorf are some of the best-known German names on the international art scene. But they're only a small part of something that is much bigger -- and hugely successful.


In January 2008, Glenn Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, went on a shopping spree in Germany. Aside from works by Beuys, Martin Kippenberger and Andreas Gursky, he acquired paintings by Neo Rauch for the MoMa collection.

Rauch, based in Leipzig, is a shooting star in the German art world. With his figurative, neo-socialist, retro-style works, he helped bring renown to the New Leipzig School style of painting. Today, the New Leipzig School is a “brand” of art as famous as VW or BMW.

New Leipzig School, and others

While newspapers have labeled the New Leipzig School a “German painting phenomenon,” Rauch and his students at the Leipzig Art Academy are only part of the reason for the growing popularity of German works. Other painters, like John Bock, Jonathan Meese, Amelie von Wulffen or Daniel Richter, are selling their art for good prices even though they don’t belong to any particular school.

Gerhard Richter has a varied painting styleImage: picture-alliance /dpa

Indeed, while Young British Art was all the rage at the end of the 1990s, it has been surpassed by the hype surrounding Young German Art.

The contemporary German art movement began in the 1960s. Few would have expected Germany -- in the wake of the destruction of World War II -- to become a leading light in the international art world. But in fact, West Germany’s situation after the war is what led to a successful search for an artistic identity and an independent visual language.

Documenta makes its mark

In 1955, 10 years after the political “zero hour,” the first documenta exhibit took place in the city of Kassel, Germany. It became a milestone on the road out of the ash-strewn, bombed-out German cities, into a German understanding of itself through art. Documenta offered German artists the chance to overcome the isolation they experienced under the Nazi regime. At last, Germans joined the rest of the international art world.

Anselm Kiefer painting titled Margarete
Anselm Kiefer's paintings comment on German historyImage: http://www.ibiblio.org

The first breakthroughs came in the 1970s. American influences dominated early in the decade, but abstract expressionism and pop art began to meet resistance later on.

Instead, German art returned to its own traditions. Anselm Kiefer was one of those new German artists, followed by Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, Gerard Richter, Joerg Immendorf and, later, Martin Kippenberger. Their works are symbols of a larger German debate over how to deal with the legacy of Nazism, and of their own German roots.

Hot commodity

At that time, the meaning of the phrase German Art began to change. Eventually, German art became a commodity, tradeable on the international market for the highest prices.

Visitors walk around Austrian artist Peter Friedl's stuffed giraffe
documenta exhibits artists from around the world -- in this case, AustriaImage: AP

But despite its ups and downs, the market for German art has never been as big as it is today. German art is hotly traded at fairs in Beijing, Shanghai, Miami, London and Basel, and according to the Association of German Galleries, the country has a greater presence at international art fairs than do other European countries such as France, Austria, Spain or Italy.

Great artists are made, not born. Germany offers an ideal situation for art students. No other country in the world has such a well-developed network of art academies. Between Dresden and Cologne, Munich and Kiel, some 5,000 art students are graduated from German institutions every year. They benefit not only from excellent professors, artists and theoreticians, but also from collectors, galleries, artists’ leagues and museums.

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