German Art About War Today and a Century Ago: A Curator’s View

Martin Bayer


The First World War was a true caesura for mankind, also including the world of art. In its beginning, most German artists supported it, similar to many other intellectuals. The realities of the first global war turned artists such as Ernst Barlach into pacifists. Especially in Germany, expressionism was often chosen to address the horrors of war. Today, only a few artists are still well-known, such as Otto Dix, while the majority and their powerful works need to be rediscovered. German pacifism is deeply rooted in the dreadful experiences of both World Wars, and not the least of bearing the responsibility of those wars, the European division of the Cold War, and the Holocaust. 70 years after the end of the Second World War, pacifism is still strong in Germany - even to the extent that people shun away from securitypolitical realities. But while you might not be interested in war, war may be interested in you. Thus, how do German artists cope with war and peace today, which conflicts are addressed and which approaches are used? To what an extent is the Great War still a subject of German art - now, in its centenary that is such a massive issue in countries like Australia, Belgium, France and the UK? How has global terror influenced German art? As perpetual chameleon, war always adapts itself to changing realities. Artists will continue to transform these societal conditions into moving works. 


9/11; Bundeswehr; contemporary art; cultures of commemoration; First World War; Germany; terrorism

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