PRINT September 2016

Focus Preview

“Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965”

Emilio Vedova, Berlin ’64 (detail), 1964, relief, paper, iron, and mixed media on wood, 41 3/8 × 47 5/8 × 7 1/8". From “Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965.”

POSTWAR. We all know the story: Jackson Pollock dripping paint in New York; Arnold Bode concocting Documenta in Kassel; Joseph Stalin demanding saccharine paintings of socialist triumph in Moscow. East versus West, abstraction versus figuration, humanism versus humanity’s seeming collapse in the entwined cataclysms of war and genocide. But what if we expand the playing field, look past the familiar names, and rethink the rules of the game? That is precisely the goal of “Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965,” organized by Okwui Enwezor, Katy Siegel, and Ulrich Wilmes and set to open at Munich’s Haus der Kunst in October. The first installment of a three-part, multiyear reexamination of culture and politics since World War II (with postcolonialism and post-Communism still to come), the show and its related research program seek nothing less than to reframe the origins of the postwar global order.

Divided into eight thematic sections—including “Aftermath: Zero Hour and the Atomic Era,” “Nations Seeking Form,” and “Networks, Media, and Communication”— “Postwar” spans painting, performance, sculpture, installation, cinema, and music across the full breadth of the oceans named in its title. An ambitious purview, to be sure, within which the curators hope to trace new patterns of cultural transmission, correspondence, and conflict. How, for instance, do Euro-American discourses of “new images of man”—focused on the attempt to salvage the human figure in the wake of its unspeakable wartime destruction—shift when inflected by the rethinking of humanism in Europe’s former colonies? What happens to models of cultural exchange when traced across wildly divergent axes, and in the context of both the forced exile of millions and the elective affinities of a few? And how, finally, does our understanding of postwar cultural epistemes change when Pollock and Bode are joined by Léopold Senghor and Anwar Shemza, and AbEx and Documenta are set into broader circuits encompassing such developments as Pan-Africanism, anti-nuclear activism, and the arts of the diaspora?

It’s fitting that this massive undertaking will open in the year of Brexit and in a museum originally designed as Adolf Hitler’s grandiose “Temple of Art.” Struggles over political power and cultural identity remain as interlaced today as ever before, with the question of nationhood and its threatened dissolution at their core. Perhaps the greatest evidence of the timeliness of “Postwar” is the nagging sense that we’re on the verge of another post emerging—one that, in the wake of war, colonialism, and Communism, may very well be ready for its own spotlight before the exhibition even reaches its close.

Graham Bader