The History of the Leipzig School of Painting

On March 1st, The VCS program hosted a lecture by Anna-Louise Kratzsch, founder and curator of the Leipzig International Art Programme (LIA). Titled “The History of the Leipzig School of Painting,” the lecture was concerned with the changes German painting has undergone over recent decades, particularly after the 1989 fall of the Communist government in East Germany.  Kratzsch’s lecture told the fascinating story of how political forces in 20th-century Europe created a temporal rift between the East and West German art scenes, resulting in a reinvigoration of classical painting techniques within contemporary art after the nation’s two halves were reunited.

The division of Germany into two political regimes had a major effect on the arts on the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain. While painting continued to move away from figuration in West Germany, Communism acted as an insulating barrier against the incursion of avant-garde ideas into East Germany. Painting styles and techniques that came to be considered passé elsewhere survived well into the late 20th century in Leipzig and other East German cities.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, contemporary ideas began to filter into the Leipzig art scene, resulting in the creation of programs for such things as video and conceptual art at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, an institution with roots going back over 200 years. However, traditional methods of artmaking (such as glazing in oil painting) continued to be taught at Leipzig, under the guidance of painting professor and Academy director Arno Rink. After the reunification, a group of young artists interested in learning these techniques came from the West to study under Rink; they included Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer, Eberhard Havekost, Christoph Ruckhäberle, Martin Kobe, Tilo Baumgärtel, Julia Schmidt, Peter Busch, Tim Eitel, Martin Eder and David Schnell. This group of artists formed the core of what soon came to be called the New Leipzig School; between 1997 and today, they have had a significant impact on the international art scene.

Kratzsch also spoke about her own organization. The Leipzig International Art Programme is a non-profit residency that provides artists a chance to live, study, and make work in the midst of the flourishing art scene that has grown up around the New Leipzig School. In addition to providing studio space, LIA helps connect its residents with galleries, museums, and other art institutions around the world, thereby expanding their professional communities and building wider audiences for their work. More about LIA and its partnerships with other art institutions can be found on the Programme page on LIA’s web site. The site also has a large photo gallery featuring images of life and work at LIA.

Co-credit for today’s post goes to VCS faculty member Amy Wilson, who attended the lecture and gave me an excellent report on its contents. I also gathered additional facts and details from the 2006 article “The New Leipzig School” by Arthur Lublow in the New York Times, and “Leipzig, The Art World’s New Mecca” by Oliver Samson at the Deutsche Welle web site. Both articles contain a wealth of additional information about the Leipzig School of painting and its artists, so I encourage interested readers to check them out.

[Update: you can find a free video of the lecture at the Visual & Critical Studies page on iTunes U; it's posted with the title "Leipzig School," dated 4/9/10.]

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