Tear down the wall

By By Chistopher Wallace

By Chistopher Wallace

Often the most intellectually challenging and inventive art forms arise in opposition to dogmatic schools of thought, establishing an identity rooted in separateness. Nowhere is this more true than at The Academy of Visual Arts (Hochschule fr Grafik und Buchkunst) located in post-fascist/communist Leipzig, Germany.

The Salt Lake Art Center’s exhibit “Life After Death: New Leipzig Paintings from the Rubell Family Collection” features the work of seven graduates of the academy who form a collective known as the New Leipzig School.

These artists’ departure from the era of state-mandated social realism first encouraged by Hitler, himself a prolific artist, thrives on immodest forays into absurdism, abstraction and allegory. Leipzig has long played a significant role in German culture and politics. The work produced at The Academy of Visual Arts in the ’80s paralleled mass protests of the anti-communist movement centered in Leipzig that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall. While abstraction, expressionism and experimentation with new media predominated the development of Modernism, Leipzig’s Academy of Visual Arts continued to teach figurative painting and produced a generation of well-respected East German figure painters. Of the artists featured in “Life After Death,” Neo Rauch is considered the most complex and developed. Rauch studied at the academy during the ’80s and worked closely with younger artists as a teaching assistant following his graduation.

Rauch’s Diktat (Dictation), included in the “Life After Death” exhibit, blends memory, mythology and mediated interaction, juxtaposing the real with the symbolic.

Christoph Ruckhaberle is perhaps the most communicative of the New Leipzig artists. His paintings are like single frames from a film reel that summarize the entire film. Thematic isolation of individuals within groups and the ennui of urban anonymity run through Ruckhaberle’s paintings.

In Ruckhaberle’s Theater, the drama plays out not on the stage, but in the street in front of the marquee, where the players seem uninterested in their own actions.

Tim Eitel and Matthias Weischer both rely on empty space, but utilize this space differently. Eitel’s space is dark and Weischer’s light, yet the emptiness employed by both is tinged with sadness. Although the voids in Eitel’s paintings exist to bring the subject into focus, Weischer’s subject is often portrayed through its own absence.

In contrast, the work of artists David Schnell and Martin Kobeis highly linear and functionally abstract. These artists depart from figure in favor of strict form. Their paintings defy obvious interpretation — they require a greater level of participation from the viewer. Kobe’s paintings are architectural spaces — enclosed by ceilings, walls and floors — broken through a prism of mirrors, while Schnell imposes Euclidean form upon nature and landscape. Together, they explore mankind’s structural mapping of space.

Tilo Baumgrtel also focuses on the spatial separation of objects, but with a more tangible approach. His landscapes appear more consistent with traditional methods, yet also transcend these methods with subtle, almost unquantifiable, deviations in structure that create a feeling of imbalance.

The New Leipzig painters share a commitment to social consciousness that is consistent with the formal constraints of the fascist/communist era. However, it is within this framework that their reactionary bend manifests itself, exposing the inherent hollowness of realism tied to a singular political ideology.

The Salt Lake Art Center is the final destination of 64 of the touring Rubell Family Collection of New Leipzig paintings.

“Life After Death,” which opened June 23, will run through Sept. 29. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.slartcenter.org or www.rubellfamilycollection.com.

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Untitled, by Martin Kobe, is part of the Life After Death exhibit on display at the Salt Lake Art Center until September 29.

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Park, by David Schnell.

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Dictation, by Neo Rauch.