Germany has only been united into a single state since the 19th century, and defining its borders has been a notoriously difficult and painful process. For earlier periods German art often effectively includes that produced in German-speaking regions including Austria, Alsace and much of Switzerland, as well as largely German-speaking cities or regions to the east of the modern German borders.
- 1 Prehistory to Late Antiquity
- 2 Middle Ages
- 3 Renaissance painting and prints
- 4 Sculpture
- 5 17th to 19th-century painting
- 6 20th century
- 7 Post WWII art
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Top 10 Most Expensive Living German Artists
In the second installment of our series of the world’s most expensive living artists, we focus on the Germans. Artists from the country have seen unprecedented success in recent years. And high-flying auction results have been spread relatively evenly across media, if not between the sexes.
Perhaps most interestingly, however, all of the Germans in our top 10 achieved their best prices during or after the great recession of 2008. The country’s penchant for stringent conceptualism and a highly art historical approach likely proves a safe bet for value retention regardless of economic conditions. Looking forward, however, it also likely means we haven’t even begun to hit the peak of where the German market could go.
1. Gerhard Richter
Richter’s dominance of the market for German art is almost unthinkable. Scrolling a list of the top 500 results ever achieved by living artists from the country, one would be forgiven for missing the few other names that appear. Then again, the artist did near singlehandedly revolutionize the medium of painting in Europe in the postwar period, attacking both fuzzy figuration and squeegeed abstraction with equal alacrity.
Richter’s paintings hold the first 53 spots on artnet’s ranking of top achieving German lots, 33 of which achieved prices over $10 million. He’s the only living German artist to have passed that eight-figure mark. Richter’s 1968 canvas Domplatz, Mailand (Cathedral Square, Milan) holds the top place, however. It sold for $37,125,000 (all prices include buyer’s premium) at Sotheby’s May 2013 sale of contemporary art.
2. Georg Baselitz
Richter’s contemporary (and sometimes rival), Baselitz displays a more interdisciplinary oeuvre than his more lucrative companion. Baselitz is best known for his sexualized portraits which often see their subjects turned upside down, as well as rough-hewn sculptures, which he carves with a chain saw directly into massive tree trunks. Lately, however, he’s been nearly as famous for his misogyny, telling Der Spiegel in 2013 that women simply can’t paint. His top auction result was for Spekulatius (1964), which sold for £3,233,250 ($5,195,645) at Sotheby’s London in June 2011.
3. Andreas Gursky
Despite painting’s firm grip on the hearts (and wallets) of most collectors, Dusseldorf-based Gursky has managed to grab unprecedented market weight for a photographer. Not only did the $4,338,500 result for his 1999 work Rhein II make him the third most expensive living German artist, but it also topped the all-time record for the medium of photography as a whole. Like much of Gursky’s oeuvre, the work taps into the German informel tradition through its use of geometric patterns—in this case, grass, a small path, the Rhine River, the far river bank, and the sky—without at all obscuring its subject.
4. Thomas Schütte
Not far behind Gursky, Schütte’s over eight-foot-tall aluminum sculpture Grosse Geist No. 16 (2000) made $4,114,500 at what was then Phillips de Pury’s November 2010 New York sale, putting him in 4th place on our ranking. The work is one of three casts, one each having also been created in steel and polished bronze. A student of Gerhard Richter, Schütte’s practice runs the gamut from small works on paper to massive sculptural installations and monuments.
5. Anselm Kiefer
Out of the entire top 10, Kiefer’s work deals perhaps most directly with his home country’s dark past. Born just months before the end of the Second World War, his practice delves deeply into the postwar consciousness and attempts to reckon with horrors committed by his parents’ generation. Yet, surprisingly, he’s one of only two artists in our list who no longer lives in Germany, having opted for life in Paris instead. Topping Kiefer’s auction history is Dem unbekannten Maler (To the unknown painter) (1983), which sold for $3,554,500 at Christie’s New York’s May 2011 evening sale of postwar and contemporary art. The painting is one of three of the same name, which Kiefer painted between 1982 and 1983. Its acrylic and shellac counterpart sold for £366,400 ($678,518) at Sotheby’s London in June 2006, while the corresponding watercolor was sold at the house’s New York locale in 1990 for $77,000.
6. Neo Rauch
The market for Neo Rauch hit a new peak just this past February at Christie’s London with Platz (Square) (2000) grabbing £1,058,500 ($1,761,231). The work, which typifies Rauch’s mix of Socialist Realist and Surrealist tropes, was purchased from a 2000 show at Berlin and Leipzig’s Eigen+Art, which has long championed the artist’s work. Tip: If you happen to be near his hometown of Aschersleben, check out Rauch’s recently created Grafikstiftung (print foundation) in which he’s placing one edition of every one of his prints.
7. Günther Uecker
The only member of the Zero Group on our list, the market for Dusseldorf-based Uecker’s early work has seen such an upsurge of late that the artist stepped in to take more control over where works from the ’50s and ’60s are headed (at least those out of his still-notable reserves). His 1964 work Haar der Nymphen, sold in February 2010 at Sotheby’s London for £825,250 ($1,295,119). The piece is exemplary of Uecker’s most famous series of works in which he uses hundreds of nails to form abstract, often swirling compositions on panels.
8. Thomas Struth
The second photographer to make our list, Struth has recently been noted for his intricately detailed photographs of technology. It’s his early works, reminiscent of the deadpan look of his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher that have most tickled the market’s fancy, however. His top lot, Pantheon, Rome was shot in 1990 and printed in 1992. It sold for £818,500 ($1,254,790) at Sotheby’s London in June 2013. The work is notable for its soft, painterly focus and minimal contrast, the latter of which remains a hallmark of Struth’s technique to this day.
9. Rosemarie Trockel
No doubt pushed along by the New Museum’s major retrospective of Trockel’s work in fall of 2012, the only female artist on our list has seen a steady uptick in her market over recent years. This February, as part of a swath of heady sales during the London auctions, Trockel’s O.T. (Made in Western Germany) (1987) sold for £722,500 ($1,189,692). The work had previously sold at Art Basel 2012 for a reported $1 million.
10. Albert Oehlen
A list of pricey German contemporary art wouldn’t be complete without a member of the Neue Wilde who brought the country’s painting scene back on track in the 1980s. A close associate of the late Martin Kippenberger, Oehlen takes a more process-oriented approach in his wildly gestural abstract canvases. At Sotheby’s New York in May 2012, a rare to market untitled painting of Oehlen’s from 1994 shot past its high estimate of $500,000 to make $722,500.
Top 10 Emerging German Artists
Visual Arts Guide
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German art now
After the embrace of figuration exemplified at the turn of the new century by international interest in the Leipzig School, a decade later, abstraction is a growing concern for many young German artists, with particular emphasis on its modernist roots.
These interests aren’t just localised. Abstract painting is very much on the ascent throughout Europe and in the US, while the influence of modernism is also widespread and occasionally surprising – we’ve identified its fundamental importance to a newly emerging trend of art as narration, for example.
Yet for Germans in particular, adoption of early 20th century forms has a special significance.
Leipzig’s glory was at least in part a kind of lamentation; the vestiges of the former DDR revivified through a style exemplifying the figurative precision of socialist realism.
At a time when many Germans were still struggling with the impact of their country’s reunification, such work represented the living relic of an era in German history lost forever.
Today’s accent on modernism represents an entirely different form of nostalgia, a more confident, optimistic reflection of the artistic vitality of Germany at the dawn of the last century and its enormous contribution to the progressive avant garde.
This interest, of course, is offset by pluralism and idiosyncracy, with a wealth of young artists attempting to forge individual idioms in ways that often incorporate specifically current concerns, such as the proliferation of technology, or commercial status of art, or even an apparent rejection of both.
Whatever the reading, the dynamism of German practice again looks set to exert its influence on a second decade of 21st century art.
Kitty Kraus’s works add up to far more than the sum of their straightforward parts. Apparently understated, Kraus masterfully imbues humble materials with high degrees of unsettling drama.
Panes of glass, for example, are arranged into simple geometric structures that merge almost imperceptibly with the space in which they are installed.
Held together with nothing more substantial than sticking tape, the edges of each pane are left treacherously ragged.
This precarious equilibrium takes on sinister overtones: three panes of glass approximate an arch, the sheet placed above two outer ‘walls’ bending ominously under its own weight (left).
In other works, lightbulbs on cables are frozen inside large blocks of black ink. Once plugged in, melting ink flows across the floor as an unmediated drawing. Yet this liquid river’s connection to a power supply also makes it potentially deadly (the bulbs, too, have a tendency to explode).
By comparison, Kraus’ series of mirror lamps (below) appear less inately threatening. Consisting of roughly constructed mirrored cubes illuminated from within, small gaps emit entrancing patterns of kaleidoscopic light.
Yet even here there’s an inbuilt booby-trap. Alhough some lamps function normally, others contain 500-watt bulbs that overheat the mirrored interior and cause the cube to explode.
Kraus’ apparent minimalism is primed for maximum impact – and a troublingly dark, unsanitised undercurrent that belies its insubstantial form.
images © Kitty Kraus
Working with various types of ceramics, wall murals and sculpture as well as works on paper, Berlin-based Wieser investigates architectural space and the ways it has been – and can be – defined, adorned and filled.
Her most obvious visual references are to early modernist movements: expressionism, geometric abstraction, and the aesthetic ideals of the Bauhaus, the inclusive concerns of which are reflected through her own fusion of applied and fine arts.
Yet despite such evident homage to early 20th century practices, Wieser’s art and design influences are highly varied, encompassing objects or themes as diverse as Renaissance lace, Expressionist film, Art Deco or 18th century stairways.
Such interests are explored not only in the production of tangible artworks, but through the complex connections Wieser weaves between them – a highly personal system of reference often made evident through her works on paper.
images © Claudia Wieser
These include pages taken from vintage books on architecture, texts, or her own drawings, all of which mediate the evolution and installation of her work.
Transforming gallery space into architectonic interiors, Wieser interrogates modernist ideals regarding design as art precisely by making art that is about design: its histories, influences and possibilities.
Alternating between near-empty canvases framing detailed vignettes, or richly decorative work in which exotic fabrics become part of the composition, Saurer’s paintings inhabit an unusual space reminiscent of Persian or Mughal miniatures – an impression that’s reinforced by the constant depiction of dimunitive figures and objects.
From another viewpoint, Saurer’s works resemble theatrical sets peopled with casts of tiny characters – a reading that accords with his own interest in the satirical operettas of 19th century composer Offenbach.
Subjects as well as titles for paintings are taken from sources ranging from newspapers to religious tracts, materials from which Saurer teases subtly nuanced narratives.
images © Benjamin Saurer
Das Wasser wird immer saurer (The water is getting increasingly sour), left, depicts a beached whale gaped at by a crowd of onlookers in 17th century costume.
The scene reminds us of the present ecological threat to marine life, as well as hinting at a time when the whale may once again become a curiosity, a seldom seen, almost mythical creature.
While not all of Saurer’s paintings render meaning as easily, titles such as Am Schweinetrog (At the pigs’ trough) or Der Himmel voller Arschlocher (Heaven full of arseholes) leave little doubt as to the scathing extent of his satire, a dissection of human fallibility that pivots around classic oppositions such as innocence and guilt, cynicism and sincerity.
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The most obvious – and most powerful – of Saurer’s oppositional strategies, however, is his deceptively ornate style, a picture book, exoticised surface that reflects our own tendency to gloss over life’s harsher realities.
It’s an approach which, just like Offenbach’s musical protests, couches hard-hitting comment in entrancing, lyrical form.
(Yet) Another young German artist gleaning inspiration from various modernist movements, Dobliar’s practice encompasses painting, collage and sculpture.
While engaging most obviously with systems of geometry and colour aligned to Bauhaus and suprematist sentiment, Dobliar’s work is infused, too, with expressionist traits; many of his apparently abstract paintings, for example, hover close to figuration, assuming the appearance of emotionally charged landscapes.
This apparent focus on specific historical precedent is, however, complicated by Dobliar’s collages and works on paper, which introduce imagery appropriated from wide-ranging areas and epochs of cultural production.
Newspapers, period magazines, prints and photographs provide a platform for interventions which, unlike Dobliar’s paintings and sculptures, vary considerably in form. Although often re-worked with his characteristic geometries, other examples approximate the Dada compositions of, say, Hannah Höch, or (increasingly) are as minimal as the application of a strip of tape or a few painted lines.
The results, rather like the paintings of Michael Bauer (below) emphasise a body of work in which particular historical associations are made manifest only to be revoked and confounded.
images © Hansjörg Dobliar
While Dobliar clearly looks backwards in time, his adoption of past idioms is motivated by a desire to harness art’s most dynamic movements in order to complicate and invigorate the valency of his own, very contemporary work.
Mascher’s vision of surreal fantasy – “a dreamworld which I myself have created or discovered” – makes for intoxicating viewing.
Beautifully composed and rendered, Mascher’s expressive canvases merge apparent naivety with darker, more ominous forces.
images © Christof Mascher
Of particular interest are his references, which, apart from heavyweights such as Paul Klee or Bosch, include, rather curiously, the arcade games he played as a child.
This influence makes itself increasingly evident, with the panoramas he evokes primed for sword-and-sorcery-style confrontation, the illustrative rendering of his other-worlds owing as much to digital technology as to that other, more old-fashioned childhood stalwart, the fantasy picture book.
Abstraction? Figuration? Portraiture? In the work of Michael Bauer, all these possibilities are yoked together to create paintings that revel in a wayward fusion of incongruities.
Earlier in his career, Bauer’s hybrid approach was used to create creepily anthropomorphic forms: eyes peer from soupy smudges; limb or tentacle-like protuberances extend from masses oddly punctuated with carefully rendered pattern or pseudo-insignia.
More recently, Bauer has adopted stylistic tropes reminiscent of modernism, besmirching their clarity with murky puddles of colour or thickly crusted paint.
images © Michael Bauer
Rendered on grounds of stained sepia-greys, there’s an artful sense of age about these works.
It’s an appearance which echoes a device often used to surround his images, a daubed border reminiscent of ancient, torn paper.
Both evoke the notion of a long-lived palimpsest; a document whose multiple authors, layers, meanings and moods forlornly negate each other, yet somehow, in combination, achieve a grim beauty.
New German art – continued
Born in 1971, Nicole Wermers’ artistic practice encompasses collage, sculpture and an amalgamation of each of these disciplines into what she terms ‘three-dimensional collage’.
Similarly to Claudia Wieser (previous page), Wermers reflects on the history of modernism by envisaging its potential impact on functional everyday objects.
Typical of this interest is Wermers’ series of upright ashtrays (above), which vacillate between utilitarian function and delicate sculptural intent. In other ‘collages’, shaped items of furniture are systematically nested and interlocked in order to echo the formal qualities of geometric abstraction.
images © Nicole Wermers
In more recent works, Wermers has focused on sculptural steel hoops that reference the anti-theft alarm gates found at store exits (left), thus providing the tantalising possibility of alternative designs for these overlooked, ubiquitous devices.
Tjorg Douglas Beer
Having exhibited since 2001 this Hamburg/New York based artist is no newcomer to the German art scene, but over the last couple of years interest in his work has risen steadily.
The combination of media in his paintings and sculpture is matched by a profusion of narrative strands, many approaching far more polemical territory – politics; race; religion – than his decorative, faux-naive style would immediately suggest.
This is reinforced by the curious texts that often appear in Douglas Beer’s work: written backwards, they indicate an earnest attempt to mirror reality, albeit in fantastical, Alice’s looking glass form.
images © Tjorg Douglas Beer
images © Julian Gšthe
A series of recent sculptures by multidisciplinary artist Julian Göthe resemble more or less familiar objects: chess pieces; Japanese toy robots; perfume bottles or even, in passing, sculptural precedents such as Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill.
Despite such visual familiarities, however, the works remain elusive, their presence a disconcerting fusion of spiky ornamentation and glossy black monumentality.
Context is ostensibly provided by the detailed drawings that usually accompany their installation, but even these produce, rather than assuage uncertainty by casting his sculptures as enormous idols from a mysterious religion; silent protagonists enmeshed in bizarre storylines.
The space between the recognisable and the obscure is one that Göthe characteristically fills, lacing his work with cryptically sinuous personal allusion.
Given the theatricality of many of his pieces, it’s no surprise to learn that he has also worked as a set-designer, his ability to atmospherically alter space put to increasingly dramatic effect.
Young German artist Kerstin Brätsch moves as fluidly between individual and collective practice as she does between mediums, creating ventures, partnerships and objects that not only provide various platforms for her artistic production, but constitute a key facet its concerns.
Her sculptures, for example, can serve as distribution centres for ‘zines and photocopied publications, (left) while her large-scale paintings – in themselves highly accomplished works (below) – double as backdrops for performance and staged actions.
In 2007, Brätsch founded DAS INSTITUT together with fellow German artist Adele Röder. Predicating itself as a kind of trading company, DAS INSTITUT creates products such as posters, prints, silkscreened fabrics and stickers, with the marketing, branding and commercial aspects of its operation seen as integral to artistic function.
With her decentred and highly flexible approach to art production, Brätsch is one of a new generation of artists infiltrating social and cultural structures formerly seen as outside the remit of fine art, widening relationships between mediums, the world, and other practitioners.
images © Kerstin Brätsch
Alexandra Hopf works in a variety of disciplines including painting, collage, installation and the unusual medium of painting on glass.
Much of her art has a dream-like, intangible quality that seems to particularly reflect her interest in psychoanalysis, one of several concerns that Hopf explores in her practice.
Animal-human hybrids emerge from shadow, their appearance, though startling, curiously in tune with the logic of the unconscious.
In other works, shafts of light pierce the gloom, partially revealing half-hidden motifs that often seem drawn from modernist geometrical structure.
images © Alexandra Hopf
Perhaps inevitably, however, the prevailing tone in her two-dimensional works is of late 19th century Symbolism, a trait that’s particularly noticeable in the pastel whorls of cloud and bug-eyed beasties that are more reminiscent of certain works by Odilon Redon than even, perhaps, Hopf herself has realised.
Born in 1976, Hueller’s trajectory to success has been rapid.
Spotted while still a student at the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts and invited to participate in various group shows, Hueller was considered a fast-emerging talent even before graduating in 2008.
Several major solo shows later, and his international reputation is well and truly established.
It’s not hard to see why. Hueller’s highly assured, multi-layered painting encompasses both semi- and pure abstraction. The fantastical imaginings of his more figurative works appear to flow directly from the unconscious, authentic outpourings reminiscent of the inspired creativity of the outsider artist.
His abstract works – which to our mind, are among his best – combine shades of richly subtle colour and collage in beautifully wrought composition.
images © Volker Hueller
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