Art in the 80s: How the wild decade looks on canvas

Deutsche Welle
3 Min Read

The 1980s were a wild, unruly decade. The Städel Museum in Frankfurt looks at the untamed period through the eyes of artists.
Electronic music with nonsense lyrics resounds from the radios. On stages in dark cellars musicians hammer on oil canisters with iron bars. Young people shave their heads, wear clothes torn to shreds while protesting against the bourgeoisie. A layer of dust still seems to adhere to the Federal Republic of Germany, which is only 30 years old.

The music explodes – punk and wave have come over from Britain, inspiring German musicians and bands, prompting them to experiment. Anything goes – except old stuff.

The subculture emerges from the underground and surfaces, spreading across the society. At the same time, society is confronted with political hot button issues, notably the global fear of nuclear armament and the possibility of new world war, a massive peace movement, the end of the Cold War, and German reunification.

Art breaking free

The upheavals during the 1980s, both social and political, couldn’t help but leave their mark on the world of art. Groups of artists trying to flee from the deadlocked avant-garde and the rigid art world of the time expanded in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne.

They joined forces with the anarchist and the punks, turning away from the art scene by breaking with conventions. They were called “Die jungen Wilden” (the young wild ones), or “neo-expressionists,” while exhibiting their works under the term “heftige Malerei” (fierce painting).

Time passed by so quickly that few new art styles had a chance to develop. The art world tried out new ideas, acting in a fast-paced and multi-faceted fashion. The paintings sold well, but the critics remained cautious. Painters such as Martin Kippenberger and Helmut Middendorf were renowned representatives of this era. Nowadays, their works are hanging in private collections and major museums worldwide

Exhibition in Frankfurt

The Städel Museum in Frankfurt has brought together 100 works from the 80s in an impressive show. For museum director Max Hollein, the exhibition is a “huge art treasure that had been seen for too long through the prism of traditional clichés.”

The Städel Museum will highlight the impressive artistic scope of the painters that were inspired by pop culture, but not shaped by it. The exhibition “The 80s. Figurative Art in Germany” runs through October 15, 2015.

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