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Künstlerplakate: Artists’ Posters from East Germany, 1967–1990

September 21, 2010

Surveying the evolution of artists’ posters in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the decades preceding reunification in 1989, Künstlerplakate ranges from early examples of the late 1960s to the rich and varied highpoint of the late 1980s. Produced and circulated primarily in East Germany’s three principal art centers: Dresden, Leipzig, and Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz), posters served both as advertisements for cultural events and works of art in their own right. Most were printed by or in the presence of the artist, in small editions of less than 100 copies—thus bypassing strict GDR censorship boards.

Communist officials discouraged easel painting—with its associations of bourgeois conspicuous consumption—but promoted printmaking and graphic design—with their emphasis on reproducibility and visual communication. Resisting pressure to conform to the dictates of socialist realism, GDR posters skirted the edges of ideological orthodoxy. During the late 1960s and 1970s, when access to Western art magazines was tightly restricted, East German artists drew inspiration from historical avant-gardes. Posters produced from the late 1970s through the 1980s—up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989—reflect the gradual easing of censorship policies and artists’ increasing knowledge of, and interest in, experimental art.

While the GDR sponsored “official” artists and paid them a monthly stipend, those lacking state-funded commissions sought other means of support as well as venues to show their work. Before the late 1970s—when the state-run network of galleries, the Staatlichen Kunsthandel der DDR, was founded—print fairs and markets, along with galleries operated by unofficial artists’ groups, served as alternative exhibition spaces. Drawn from the extensive collections of the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz—the majority from a recent gift by Margit and Gert Becker—Künstlerplakate is the first American museum show of these remarkable and vibrant works. Demonstrating that the GDR’s art scene was far more diverse than previously assumed, the exhibition reveals how posters served as potent vehicles for individual expression and experimentation.

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