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Jörg Immendorff: ‘Café Deutschland’
Modern Painters
Paul Laster
December 2014

One of the best known contemporary German artists, Immendorff started out studying theater at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art in 1963 before shifting his attention so that he could study with the politically active artist Joseph Beuys. Immendorff followed his mentor’s path, creating actions and protest art while declaring in a 1966 canvas that artists should quit painting. Ten years later, two events rekindled his interest in the medium: the discovery of Renato Guttuso’s history paintings, which he saw at the Venice Biennale, and meeting East German artist A.R. Penck and collaborating with him on a manifesto about issues related to the divided German states.

Three lmmendorff canvases from 1978 are painted in a similar scale as Guttuso’s Caffè Greco, a fantasy that captured famous figures from different eras in a legendary Roman gathering place for artists and intellectuals. These works reveal political problems on both sides of the Berlin Wall, with Delikado portraying Penck throwing red paint on a watchtower and protesters breaking the window of an elite shop in the East, while Immendorff smears the German federal eagle with red paint as a female sculptor chips away at a cornerstone on the wall’s Western side.

Café Deutschland VJ - Caféprobe (Café Deutschland VI - Café Rehearsal), a 1980 painting that’s the largest canvas in the show, captures lmmendorff and Penck collapsed on the   floor  of  a  nightclub  and  isolated   in  a mirror suspended above. Based on Düsseldorf’s Ratinger Hof, a popular discotheque of the time, the café becomes a stage for Immendorff’s comparison of life in the East and the West, with Penck, wearing a cap of ice, atop a tower displaying East Germany’s coat of arms merged with a tank, and Immendorff, surrounded by signs of nuclear threat, held in the eagle’s clutches.

Several smaller paintings present details of and studies for larger works – sporting white borders and words that make them look like propaganda posters. Three later canvases from 1984-85 reveal a shift toward a more vibrant palette that still flaunts the fast, brilliant brushwork that made Immendorff one of the standouts of the Neo-Expressionist movement.