July 14, 2017 - Guggenheim Bilbao - Georg Baselitz. The Heroes
July 14, 2017

Guggenheim Bilbao

Georg Baselitz, Schwarz Weiß / Black White, 1966. Oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. Private collection, Berlin. © Georg Baselitz 2017.

Georg Baselitz. The Heroes
July 14–October 22, 2017

Guggenheim Bilbao
Abandoibarra et.2
48001 Bilbao


Curators: Max Hollein, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; Eva Mongi-Vollmer, Städel Museum Frankfurt; and Petra Joos, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is pleased to present Georg Baselitz. Heroes, a monographic exhibition devoted to a series of paintings that depict vulnerable, defeated "heroes," created in 1965/66 by one of the most influential artists of our time, Georg Baselitz. This show, organized by the Städel Museum Frankfurt in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, has assembled 60 paintings, drawings, and sketches from the series for the first time. Baselitz’s monumental, frenzied, defiant figures are an energetic statement of the artist’s self-assertion and identity that ran contrary to the prevailing artistic and ideological trends of his time. Establishing an ideal continuity between past and present, the exhibition in Bilbao concludes with a selection of paintings from the Remix cycle that Georg Baselitz began working on in 2005, which includes Heroes and New Types from 2007 and 2008.

The artist has admitted, "What I could never escape was Germany, and being German." In 1965, Georg Baselitz saw post-war Germany as a state of multifaceted destruction where ideologies, political systems, and artistic styles were up for discussion. This lack of order was very much in keeping with the artist’s own nature, and he chose to emphasize the equivocal aspects of his time from a skeptical perspective. His Heroes in their tattered battle dress possess an accordingly contradictory character, marked by both failure and resignation. The fact that the artist—who was just 27 years old at the time—decided to take on the subject of “heroes” or “types” was quite provocative, as (male) heroism and its onetime exponents had been called into question by the war and its aftermath.

The fragile and paradoxical Heroes find their counterpoint in form: the consistently frontal depiction and central placement of the clearly outlined figure contrast with the wildness of the palette and the vehemence of the pictorial style. Baselitz thus illustrated an unwelcome reality that challenged the story of success of the German Federal Republic’s economic miracle by resorting to figuration, a supposedly obsolete form. Yet Baselitz was concerned with far more than general social issues—he was also reflecting on his own place in society.

Setting aside the positive image associated with the rhetoric of wartime and post-war propaganda, Baselitz’s Heroes are the epitome of frailty, insecurity, and inconsistency. These giants in tattered uniforms stand out starkly, wounded and vulnerable, against a rubble-strewn background. Yet the feeling of despair is attenuated by the presence of an object, like an artist’s palette, or the gesture of picking up a small cart, or a shred of countryside as if protecting the seeds of some future crop.

The Hero paintings represent a turning point in the oeuvre of the artist’s early years and today can be regarded as a historical document. These works were not aligned with any artistic trends of the time; they did not embrace the ZERO Group’s vision of the future, the French or American approaches to abstraction, or the variations on German post-war Art Informel. Even 20 years after the end of the war, Baselitz was not content to merely convey the superficial feeling of a new beginning. And even if the Heroes and New Types adhere to recurring motifs, they are monstrous, broken, and forceful in their painterly formulation. They represent an important stance within post–1945 German art.

Guggenheim Bilbao
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