23 January 2015

Pop Art in German Cities, Part 4: despite the diversity of it voices, Pop Art remains an intermezzo in Munich.

By Sabine Weier

"POP" headlines a 1964 issue of the German magazine "Das Kunstwerk" and reports at length on young art from Great Britain and the United States. Works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, and Claes Oldenburg are presented that same year at the Venice Biennale--Rauschenberg even receives an award--and the third Documenta in Kassel also exhibits works by Rauschenberg, Johns, and Allen Jones. Some critics fear American colonization. Some artists embrace Pop enthusiastically.

Even in Munich, albeit somewhat later. Groups had been forming since the late 1950s around the Academy of Visual Arts. The sculptor Lothar Fischer and the painter Heimrad Prem, for example, belong to SPUR (trace), and both of them participate in the third Documenta. In 1965, SPUR merges with WIR (we) to form GEFLECHT (mesh)--the name is intended to describe the connection between art and life that is so essential in Pop Art. Over the course of the next three years, an individual interpretation of Pop Art develops in a close exchange.

Challenging the genius cult, which is inherent in painting and sculpture, is one of the most important principles of Pop. The artists in the GEFLECHT group--these include Hans Matthäus Bachmayer, Reinhold Heller, Florian Köhler, Heino Naujoks, Helmut Rieger, Helmut Sturm, and HP Zimmer--create works in a collective, for example their "anti-objects," three-dimensional works that are not quite objects, not quite paintings, but hybrids between sculpture and painting. In most of the abstract works, curved elements rendered in materials such as paper, sheet metal, or wire encounter jazzy colors. Even an "anti-object" manifesto is written.

Not all of the group's members identify themselves with the developments, and so it is precisely the prominent personalities Fischer and Prem who leave GEFLECHT early on. The group ultimately disbands completely in 1968, the year of student protests and the increasing politicization of German Pop Art. The artists had already carried on fierce sociopolitical discussions in the years prior to that. After the group disbanded, Sturm and Bachmeyer concentrate exclusively on the 1968 protests: art merges with life.

Ludi Armbruster Is the Only Woman to Take a Stand against the Male Perspective

Pop Art strikes out in its own path on the Munich scene. Numerous artists develop their own approach to material, such as Prem in his "Padded Paintings," figurative works that have the appearance of reliefs due to the padded elements. Michael Langer turns to film; Uwe Lausen creates striking figurative paintings and later dedicates himself to music. Besides their anti-objects, the GEFLECHT artists also devote themselves to the collage and graphic art.

The Pop language used by Munich-based artists sometimes strongly resembles that used by their American counterparts. Everyday objects become artistic motifs. In 1968, for instance, Lothar Fischer produces the clay sculpture "Large Tube": an oversized toothpaste tube leaning against a low pedestal and oozing a yellow-and-white-striped mass. As early as 1965, Helmut Sturm creates a colorful collage in which he combines elements found in fashion photographs with painted figures that are reduced to items of clothing. A male figure is wearing a shirt bearing the letters "US."

It is primarily Fischer and Prem who are visibly influenced by the American Pop artists Claes Oldenburg and Tom Wesselmann in that they continuously work with the figure, especially the female figure. They take up celebrity portraits and once in a while depict half-clothed women's bodies in the bathtub. Their works are on display in 1967 at the Galerie van de Loo in Munich. The year before, works by Wesselmann, Andy Warhol, Dine, and others were presented at the show "11 Pop Artists" at the Galerie Friedrich & Dahlem, likewise in the Bavarian capital. Ludi Armbruster is the only woman to take a stand against the male perspective; her female bodies are markedly unerotic. Despite the diversity of it voices, Pop Art remains an intermezzo in Munich, and some of the artists clearly distance themselves from it. Several years later, Fischer would refer to the works he produced back then as "a mistake."