Entangled art histories between Germany and the United States, 1960-1990: production, diffusion, reception
Symposium: Wiels, Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 09–11/11/2023
Valérie Mavridorakis, Sorbonne Université Alexander Streitberger, UCLouvain
Erik Verhagen, Université de Valenciennes
This conference suggests to explore the complex relationships, interactions and collaborations that took place between the German and North American art scenes in the period from the 1960s to the 1980s. While documenta 2 in 1959 allowed the German public to discover Abstract Expressionism as a specifically American art movement, it was not until the early 1960s that a sustained and intense transatlantic dialogue has been established on the artistic, socio-cultural, institutional and economic levels. In the wake of movements such as Fluxus, Pop art, Minimalism and Conceptualism, a dense and extensive international network was gradually set up, involving artists, museums, galleries, curators, critics, and the art market. Within this context, the study of artistic exchanges between Germany and the United States seems to be of particular interest in relation to the following questions:
- In the aftermath of the Second World War, what are the repercussions on the field of art of the unbalanced power relationship between an America imposing its cultural and political values and an exsanguinated West Germany, defeated and guilty on both moral and military grounds?
- What about the East German art scene? What image did artists (and other cultural professionals) have of America? Were there any contacts between the USA and the GDR mediated through West German artists, institutions, collectors or galleries?
- How did artists and other agents of the art world (gallery owners, curators, critics, collectors) contribute to set up personal and institutional networks in order to promote and disseminate the art of their respective countries?
- How did contact with or experience in the other country’s artistic circles affect an artist’s career or the development of his/her work?
- To what extent did art criticism and art history in Germany and the United States impact the creation of narratives and imaginaries about a “German” or an “American” art?
- Beyond the links between the artistic capitals on both sides of the Atlantic (New York, Cologne, Düsseldorf), what about the secondary centers (Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles, for example, for the United States, Munich, Berlin or Frankfurt for Germany)?
Even today’s historiography often tends to view transatlantic relations in hierarchical terms, emphasizing American political, economic, and cultural domination. Instead of thinking of these relations in terms of influence, preponderance or dependence, we prefer to focus on concepts of entanglement, cross-fertilization, and interrelation. In this, we adhere to what historians Michael Werner and Bénédicte Zimmermann have defined as an entangled history (histoire croisée). Hence, the objects of research are considered not “only in relation to each other, but also through each other, in terms of relations, interactions, circulation.” With regard to our field of study, this concerns the artists as much as the institutions, the market, the critical and theoretical discourse.
Among the avenues to be explored:
- Instead of looking at the influence that American pop art had on German artists of Capitalist Realism (especially Polke and Richter), it could be interesting to ask how the works of the latter contributed to a re-evaluation of pop art in the critical and historiographical discourse in the United States (e.g. by B. Buchloh).
- During the 1960s, many American minimalist and conceptual artists had important solo exhibitions in Germany (Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, etc.). What role did these exhibitions play in their careers and artistic development? What was their reception in Germany? What place did these artists occupy within the institutions and galleries that exhibited them? How did these exhibitions contribute to the dialogue between the German and North American art scenes? What about major German group exhibitions, such as Konzeption/Conception (Leverkusen, 1969) and Zeitgeist (Berlin, 1982), that had a profound effect on the international institutional landscape of art? How the respective art worlds were covered by the German or the American media (press, television, etc.)? Finally, what role did documenta in Kassel play in the redistribution of the cards between German and American protagonists?
- The debate around neo-expressionist painting in the early 1980s in the United States reflects an ambivalent attitude of fascination and repulsion towards the historical, political and cultural imaginings of a German art. What was the impact of this debate in Germany? To what extent did it influence or (re-)orient the historiography of contemporary painting in Germany and the United States?
- Which American artists or trends are discussed in the German media, and vice versa? To what extent have questions of a specific national identity and cultural history influenced the strategies of artists and cultural agents (journalists, critics, institutions, etc.) to disseminate and promote particular artists or trends?
The working languages of the symposium are English and French
Abstract submission deadline: Monday 15 May 2023.
Response: 19 June 2023
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