News
Jörg Immendorff: ‘Café Deutschland’
The New York Times
Roberta Smith
31 October 2014

The acerbic Café Deutschland paintings of Jörg Immendorff are back in New York in bulk for the first time since this German Neo-Expressionist’s American debut at the Sonnabend Gallery in 1982. This show of 15 examples confirms that their fusion of painterliness and politics retains much of its original vehemence.

Immendorff (1945-2007) lacked the inventiveness of his countryman Sigmar Polke, or Anselm Kiefer’s sense of theater, but he compensated with suave sendups of bravura brushwork and history painting imbued with sardonic commentary. He seemed to paint in a rush, laughing as he went, skillfully wielding a thick brush and a (political) cartoonish sense of form.

Nazis, artists, protesters, thugs and dissolute drinkers (whether of coffee or liquor) mingle in the cafe’s cavelike setting. The German eagle is abused, chased off canvas (in the revelry of “Questions From a Painter Who Reads”) or ripped asunder (in “Half an Eagle”) to symbolize the divided nation. In “The Saints — Leda and the Swan,” a charred female figure is surrounded by a convocation of haloed, supposedly innocent eagles.

Interestingly, the strongest paintings are three (including “Leda”) from the mid-1980s, after the Sonnabend show, and painted in oil, not acrylic. The richer colors and textures especially benefit the hellacious “Adoration of the Content,” with its swastikas and court jesters, or perhaps devils, growing on striped plants; glowing bar and satanic bartenders; Nazis behind a velvet rope; and, overhead, a painting of someone reading a book.

With the Café Deutschland paintings, Immendorff fed directly off the bitterness and exaggerated forms of the Weimar-era’s George Grosz and Max Beckmann, establishing the German Expressionist bona fides of Neo-Expressionism more directly than any of his contemporaries.