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The exhibition titled Immendorff. Long Live Painting! is the second in a series on “Classic Contemporary German” painters at the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, following on from the Günther Uecker exhibition, Material Becomes Picture, in 2012. These shows, to be held every two years, are intended to familiarise the Hungarian public with some of the most emblematic – and now world-famous – individuals who represented the major phenomena and trends in post-war (West) German art movements. After the meditative and material-centric Günther Uecker, who responded to basic human emotions and values, the series continues with his diametric opposite, the “restless” artist Jörg Immendorff (1945–2007), who was active in politics and who also took on social roles. Both started out in Düsseldorf – Uecker as a member of the ZERO group, Immendorff as a student of Joseph Beuys – but both took fundamentally different paths and sought different solutions to the problems of their age and (German) society. Whereas Uecker worked mostly with natural materials, producing installations, objects and works of Concept and Kinetic art, we have now concentrated solely on the art of painting, on flat surfaces, on oil and canvas. One of the reasons for this is the substantial transformation that painting went through in post-war Germany: after the “anti-picture” approach of conceptualism and object art, which dominated the sixties and seventies, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw a resurgence of a variety of painting movements: the world developed a “hunger for pictures”. The “legitimisation” of painting took place in Germany, and it is undeniable that one of the key roles in the revival of painting and the change in artistic attitude was played by Immendorff.
Jörg Immendorff was one of the most divisive artists in the post-war German art scene, as his paintings could not be approached in a classical, art-loving, aestheticising manner, or classified into art historical categories; moreover his subjects and the solutions in his pictures are unsettling to some people, even today. At the same time, he was one of the most “typical” West German painters of his day, not only because he focused on obviously German (political) matters in his works, but also because he took earlier German painting traditions – the visual world of Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann – and progressed forward with them, enriching them with bold innovations. His characteristic tumultuous, exultantly coloured, constantly moving imagery and compositions were arrived at step by step. It is for this reason that the main focus of the exhibition is on the multiple transformations Immendorff’s painting solutions passed through, for we realised that discussions of his art so far have concentrated more on the content and political messages of his art than on the rich variety of his painting and the visual complexity of his images. Our intention is to present the arc described by Immendorff’s career, from the early Baby Pictures, with their static, almost monochrome structure, to the dynamic, (perspectivally) stage-like, vividly coloured Café Deutschland and Café de Flore series, and from there back into the quieter, more solitary and contemplative direction of painterly solutions that were once again restricted to a single motif each, and did away with perspective. Our aim is to draw attention to his colours, his shades and his details. “All I can see in Immendorff’s paintings is colours”, said the art dealer Michael Werner, who was attached to Immendorff not only through close professional association, but also by friendship.
Immendorff’s chameleon-like character also manifests itself in his paintings: he was, simultaneously, an artist, a painter, a politician, an anarchist, a dandy and a rocker. His behaviour, as a human and as an artist, was distinguished by incessant activity, constant criticism, honest self-evaluation, a questioning of accepted values and a struggle against injustice. We present the creator behind the works with quotations from his writings and from interviews with him.
The exhibition commemorates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall: Immendorff was one of the first visual artists in Germany whose works, even in the 1970s, dealt with the idea of a “cultural and spiritual” reunification of the nation, in many ways anticipating the historic events that would come to pass in 1989.
Curator of the exhibition: Kinga Bódi and Alexander Tolnay