“It was always clear that we wanted to get it out there. The forceful character, the assertiveness in connection with a pedagogical idea, that was always clear. The aim was always to go out and reach other people. Including the truism: ‘I am not going to let you leave me alone’...”
-Jörg Immendorff, 1989
Jörg Immendorff (1945-2007) is one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century to emerge from post-war Germany, known for a body of work that challenged both artistic and political establishments.
Immendorff's work remains deeply relevant today and exemplifies how art (and the role of the artist) can be used to engage with and confront both society and politics.
He began his formal artistic training at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and in 1964 Immendorff was admitted into the class of Joseph Beuys, then the most important artist working in Germany and a figure of profound influence for an entire generation of German artists. Immendorff's relationship with Beuys marked the beginning of an intensely productive period for the young artist, who was deeply affected by the Beuysian notion that art can and should play a wider role in society. Joseph Beuys was a dynamic and polarizing figure who inspired Immendorff to challenge the traditions of fine art and the art academy. In 1966, Immendorff painted the words “Hört auf zu malen” (“Stop Painting”) on a canvas; it was a major turning point in the artist’s early work and philosophy. “With this picture,” he explained later, “I wanted to express my unease about a type of painting that is hermetic and does not take up any position in relation to external problems.” Inspired by Immendorff and featuring his work, an exhibition titled “Stop Painting” is currently on view at the Fondazione Prada, Venice.
“On 31 January 1968 at three in the afternoon, Immendorff wandered up and down in front of the Parliament Building in Bonn. Attached to his left leg was a wooden block painted in the national colors of black, red, and gold, and carrying the word LIDL. This performance attracted the police to the scene. They arrived after half an hour and confiscated the block. Their reason was that as the block was dragging on the ground, the national colors were being rubbed off; this amounted to an insult to the national flag. After the police had left, Immendorff took a second block, tied it around his neck, carried on with his walk, and this time was not interfered with. With this action the artist in isolation had left the context of art and had claimed the street as another field of action. A consequence of this was an interrogation by the police but the case was not pursued because a defamation of the Federal Republic was not judged to have taken place.”
– Harald Szeemann, THE LONG MARCH OR INCITEMENTS OF THE TIMES: A COMPILATION, Modern Art Oxford, 1982
Translation (left panel):
Here and Now:
The progressive bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie cultural workers today can already do what needs to be done: focus on representing the real life of the common people -- denounce the anti-people politics of the bourgeoisie and show the day-to-day class struggle.
But they will achieve only little should they not decide to unswervingly support the struggle of the proletariat -- as allies here and now -- in all practical matters.
(from Rote Presse Correspondence Nr. 174 June 30 1972)
In 1970, Immendorff joined the League Against Imperialism, pledging to direct his creative endeavors to the service of the German Maoist party. Disillusioned by the outcome of European political events of the late 1960s, and increasingly dissatisfied with his role as an artist, Immendorff sought to produce paintings for and about the working masses. These works attack capitalism and the domination of the proletariat, expose and question the clash of aesthetic interest with political commitment, and refute the clichés and myths of avant-garde art production. In contrast to Immendorff’s playfully anarchic paintings and actions of the previous decade, his works of the early seventies illustrate the artist’s intense exploration into the possible melding of aesthetic and political aims.
The paintings from the early 1970s on display here are testament to these political convictions of Immendorff at that time. It was not until the late 1970s that Immendorff decided to dedicate himself completely to art.
Political issues and the role of the individual in society continued to be important themes for the artist through his career, and this presentation includes several works from Immendorff’s most celebrated Café Deutschland series, which he began in the late seventies and continued for several years, and which were inspired by Renato Guttuso’s Café Greco, which Immendorff had seen in an exhibition in Cologne.
These works address questions around German identity and world history, on a picture plane that resembles a stage setting. They depict conceptual cabaret-nightclub scenes, in which a disparate cast of cultural and political characters could convene and interact, oftentimes engaging in several concurrent scenes. At Café Deutschland, the complexities of a divided Germany could be explored and reconciled. This series met with great critical acclaim and was initially featured in the artist’s first major museum exhibition, at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, later at Documenta VII, in 1982, and has since then been part of every major show by the artist.
Jörg Immendorff has been exhibited internationally since the 1970s; important exhibitions include Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Municipal Museum, The Hague; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; Kunstmuseum, Bonn; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, and Haus der Kunst, Munich, among many others. Immendorff is currently featured in the exhibition "Stop Painting" at the Fondazione Prada, Venice.
“I wanted to be an artist: but I didn’t want my work to be for people who, gossiping about the latest party and their business deals, considered my pictures mere chic decoration. But I didn’t ask myself why. I didn’t look for the reason for this attitude in my own work, felt neglected, and placed the blame on others. I didn’t ask myself: Who are you working for, and to what end?”
– Jörg Immendorff, from his painting, “I wanted to Be an Artist…”