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New German painting: painting, nostalgia & cultural identity in post-unification Germany

Abdullah, Hannah (2012) New German painting: painting, nostalgia & cultural identity in post-unification Germany. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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During the past decade one of the bestsellers in the American art market was a group of figurative-representational paintings from post-Unification Germany. Dubbed “New German Painting”, this body of work included artists with explicit East German affiliations, such as the so-called “New Leipzig School”, as well as artists who trained at academies in former West Germany. While the American art critical discourse predominantly promoted the art as a new kind of German history painting, which confronted the country’s recent past of division and reunification, the reception amongst German art critics was more negative by far. The latter did not see a serious engagement with recent German history in the new body of art, and dismissed the painting as catering to a growing post-socialist nostalgia industry. Moreover, the traditional figurative style of painting, which was adopted in particular by artists trained at academies in post-Wende East Germany, was often criticized as an aesthetically and politically reactionary artistic position. In spite of the obvious social and political connotations of the art critical discourse on the “New German Painting”, art historical scholarship has barely examined this new body of art in light of underlying interactions between the painting’s aesthetic content and the social-political context of post-Unification Germany. This is a surprising omission, considering that scholars of modern German art are traditionally deeply concerned with the interplay between aesthetic and political continuities and discontinuities. A possible explanation for this gap in the literature is that art history lacks a framework to capture the intersecting aesthetic and social-political notions that have emerged in the discourse on the painting. This thesis aims to overcome this shortcoming by examining the phenomenon “New German Painting” from an interdisciplinary perspective that combines sociological with art historical approaches. The theoretical perspective builds on innovations in the sociology of art, which complement established concerns with social structure with a sensibility for aesthetic specificity. In the empirical parts of the thesis this perspective is used to trace continuities between the new painting and its reception with earlier moments in German post-World War II art history; as well as to examine the social context and historical moment in which the painting emerged. Particular attention is paid to affinities between the discussion of the “New German Painting” and current crossdisciplinary academic literature on nostalgia in post-Wende Germany. Overall, the thesis argues that this more encompassing approach is better suited for revealing how the phenomenon “New German Painting” sits at the centre of debates about collective memory and cultural identity in post-1989 Germany, including the complex relations between the former East and West that characterise these debates.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Hannah Abdullah
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Dodd, Nigel

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