Life After Death: New Leipzig Paintings from the Rubell Family Collection
February 17 – June 3, 2007
Life After Death: New Leipzig Paintings from the Rubell Family Collection presents, for the first time in the Northwest, paintings and drawings by prominent artists associated with the venerable Leipzig Art Academy: Neo Rauch, Tilo Baumgärtel, Tim Eitel, Martin Kobe, Christoph Ruckhäberle, David Schnell, and Matthias Weischer.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, young artists eager to draw from nude models, master the rules of perspective, and analyze formal composition were attracted to the Leipzig Art Academy in Germany. Although the rise of abstraction had eroded the tradition of figurative art in post-war America and Western Europe, in parts of Europe cut off from the West by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, figurative art as it had been taught for centuries flourished.
Founded in 1764 and one of the oldest art schools in Germany, the Leipzig Academy is highly regarded for its tradition of figure painting, which, before the reunification of Germany in 1989 and 1990, was bound to state-mandated Socialist realism. The school’s required focus on figure painting foreclosed experimentation with subject matter or form, but left technique free to develop. Its rigorous two-year foundation course, focused primarily on portrait and nude studies, produced some of East Germany’s most highly regarded figure painters.
Six of the artists included in Life After Death were students at the Academy in the decade after the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall; the seventh, Neo Rauch, studied at the school in the 1980s and taught there in the 1990s, working closely with these students. Following graduation from the school, the younger artists formed Galerie LIGA (the League Gallery) in Leipzig.
The New Leipzig School painters share stylistic and thematic concerns, shaped by both the school’s traditions and by East German Socialist realism. The Academy prioritized classical techniques of painting, resulting in the artists’ use of graphite scaling grids, forced perspective, careful attention to color, and an emphasis on the figure. Their artwork—characterized by enigmatic narratives, surrealist overtones, and a general feeling of world-weariness—breathes new life into realist figure painting. The works are incredibly diverse, from Rauch’s dreamscapes to Kobe’s elaborate architecture to Weischer’s empty rooms. Yet they all contribute to a contemporary reflection on the East German political situation, depicting places and people not necessarily prepared to integrate into the brand-new optimistic West.
In the discourse on representational art, the title Life After Death evokes the many times, from the nineteenth through the twenty-first century—and especially since the invention of photography—that painting has been declared dead or merely beside the point. The idea of representational art as anti-abstraction—as conservative at best and nostalgic, even reactionary, at worst—still persists in certain quarters, even as more and more contemporary artists find potential through recognizable subject matter in media such as painting, photography, video, and performance, as well as in less-definable interstices between these media.
As a museum dedicated to examining the definitions of representational art, the Frye is pleased to help introduce this important art to broader audiences in the U.S., while furthering our investigation of representational art’s varied historical strands and contemporary manifestations.
Life After Death is co-curated by Mark Coetzee, director of the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, and Laura Steward Heon, director and curator of SITE Santa Fe. The exhibition is coordinated for the Frye by Chief Curator Robin Held.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 150-page color catalogue. In addition to the Frye, the exhibition is traveling to MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts; SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico; the Katzen Arts Center Museum, American University, Washington, DC; and the Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah.