Gruppe 53

ID Galerie

Named after the year of its founding, Gruppe 53 was formed by a collective of artists not so much to address issues of content but to improve the exhibition situation in postwar Germany. With exhibitions in the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle from 1956 to 1959, they achieved this goal. A document from 1955 lists the 17 artists, most of whom dubbed themselves “Kunstmaler” (art painters). Many of the names are unknown today; many of their works, though, belong to our everyday visual vocabulary. Still, there is hardly a common denominator to the paintings. One could call it informal painting, and it is quite astonishing that Otto Piene and Heinz Mack were happy representatives of a formless kind of painting. Konrad Klapheck, with his almost objective illustrations of technology, painted then as he does today. It remains surprising that this group, with its disparate viewpoints, was able to remain together for six years.

This exhibition, researched by the gallery and in large part put together from the artists’ estates, offered insight into the artistic situation in postwar Germany. The vaults of many West German museums are probably filled with examples of this dark chapter of West German art history. The paintings in this exhibition demonstrate the long-standing influence of Expressionism—in large measure a knowledge of Franz Marc’s works mixed with Willi Baumeister and French tachisme. The desire to gain access to contemporary discussions about art is apparent: the desire to introduce international developments in Germany and to avoid a confrontation with the past. One might say this continues today with galleries taking the lead over the more sociohistorical approach of the museums.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.