View of “Norbert Kricke and Ernst Wilhelm Nay,” 2018. From left: Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Untitled, 1953; Norbert Kricke, Raumplastik Schwarz-Rot (Sculpture-Black-Red), 1955. Photo: Roman März.

Norbert Kricke and Ernst Wilhelm Nay

Aurel Scheibler

What occasioned the painter Ernst Wilhelm Nay’s fall from grace, beginning with attacks published in the newspapers Die Zeit and Der Tagesspiegel in 1964, was not so much his art itself as the immense esteem in which it had been held in the German art scene. It’s been said that in light of Nay’s prominent participation in the first three Documenta exhibitions, for the first two decades after World War II the artist was to Germany what Henry Moore was to England, and what Jackson Pollock was to the United States. An emblem of the old guard, he was considered invincible, but by the 1960s his wholly apolitical approach to artmaking was becoming increasingly out of sync with the zeitgeist. For the younger generation, Nay became synonymous with the establishment, an obvious target for a takedown.

Fifty years after Nay’s death in 1968, however, we can now encounter his work on different terms,

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