Online Exhibition and Virtual Tour
The Art of Memory
Gefördert durch das Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kultur sowie durch das Ministerium für Infrastruktur und Landesplanung des Landes Brandenburg.
Mit freundlicher Unterstützung der brandenburgischen Sparkassen
Mit freundlicher Unterstützung der Investitionsbank des Landes Brandenburg.
The violence and destruction of World War II remained tangible for decades after it ended and involved traumatic experiences for the generations that took part in it. Its onerous heritage was partially suppressed in the period of reconstruction from 1945 onwards, or dealt with in accounts either within families or in cultural memory. For instance in the GDR, it was impossible to publicly address the theme of flight and expulsion from former German territories in the East. The painting “Refugees” (“Flüchtlinge”) by Gerhard Kurt Müller, which is presented in this room, does not explicitly break that taboo, but it is open to such references.
The GDR regarded its friendship with the GDR as an untouchable political principle. From 1949 onwards, filling that premise with life was the task of the “Society for German-Soviet Friendship”. The organisation therefore carried out a wide range of cultural work to that aim, including the commissioning and collection of visual art on the relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union.Art needed to help overcome deep-rooted anti-Russian sentiments that had previously been whipped up by National Socialist propaganda.
The works selected here were all produced in the 1980s. They refuse to adopt an idealised understanding of “friendship”. Thomas Zieglers portraits of soldiers present characters without exaggerated attitudes. His largest panel painting expresses an interpersonal dimension of German-Soviet friendship and a new perception of untouched Siberian expanses as a place of yearning. Michael Zschocher assumes a very different tone. In times of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, he addresses the theme of historical violation and delusion.
All of the exhibition’s works are based on the desire to learn from history in order to improve the future. In some cases, the motifs of references to the years between 1933 and 1945 are overlaid with contemporary or timeless references. For instance Heidrun Hegewald presents several levels of time and reality in her allegorical painting entitled “Cassandra sees a snake’s egg” (“Kassandra sieht ein Schlangenei”) Will the story of the mythological figure of Cassandra be repeated? Her prophetic warnings of destruction went unheeded in ancient Troy. In addition to the feared return of fascism and war, the painting also addresses the problem of patriarchal society, which contributes to the fact that the crier, probably a self-portrait of the artist, is ignored.
The German surrender on May 8, 1945 is a key date in the public memory of the GDR. The historical turning point was commemorated every year in the GDR as the day of liberation from fascism. Art was called upon to contribute, which it did with an increasingly differentiated perspective:
Norbert Wagenbrett’s painting produced in 1990 regards the “Peace Negotion” (“Friedensverhandlung”) at the Yalta conference as the germ of a new global confrontation. The meeting in February 1945 between the three great heads of state in the “anti-Hitler coalition” – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin – was meant to lay the foundations of a peaceful world order. In fact it led to the division of the world into spheres of power and a threatening and long-lasting new conflict scenario.
“The Art of Memory” presents paintings, graphics and photographs on the theme of World War II, liberation from National Socialism and friendship with the Soviet Union. These themes are key to the GDR’s own understanding of its history and are accordingly present in its art. In the 1980s, increasing undertones and multifaceted interpretations became apparent: going beyond idealisation, the anti-fascist myth and the symbolism of avowal. A wide range of realistic, expressive and abstract aesthetic means were used. In many works, reflection on history is combined with consideration of contemporary problems, such as authoritarian social conditions, militarism and the fear of nuclear war. Thus the images continue to be relevant to reflection beyond the period of their production.
Includes works by Petra Flemming, Dieter Gantz, Heidrun Hegewald, Hartmut Hornung, Gerhard Goßmann, Gerhart Kurt Müller, Norbert Wagenbrett and Thomas Ziegler.