Taking Measures – Realism Seminar

at Faites votre jeu (Klapperfeldgasse 5, FFM)

Start: 22.05.2009, 20:00, future dates find at http://takingmeasures.blogspot.com/

In our first meeting we discuss these texts: Eugene Lunn – Marxism and Art in the Era of Stalin and Hitler: A Comparison of Brecht and Lukács and the interview with Klaus Herding – Das Überzeitliche im Realismus


Big art sponsors shorten their budgets or melt into air, such as the investment bank Lehman Brothers which also co-financed the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main. At the same time the “cultural nation” Germany will profit from art as a local investment, especially in times of economic crisis. The abundance of exhibitions adressing the topic of Germany within the last years[1] show how curatorial concepts can turn art, which even takes a decidedly critical stance against Germany, into a very personal and subjective commitment towards the national state. Max Klebb described these developments aptly as “the critical rebirth of nationalism as culture.”[2] In this way individualized imperatives of artistic production are turned into a subjectivist nationalism which boasts the claim to harbor and utilize limitless dimensions of differences.
The present form of an increasingly visible crisis development within capitalist economy demands a more realistic view on things. In place of the neoliberal euphoria of deregulated markets steps the similarly neoliberal conflict between globalization and national protectionism. But still there is a governmental consensus about taking the economic crisis as an occasion to finally moralize capitalism. The fact that this isn’t primarily meant to flatter NGOs and alter-globalization movements like Attac was made clear by german chancellor Angela Merkel in her new-years speech in 2009: “The crisis reveals the common spirit. Now this common spirit can help us in every situation. (…) We, the Germans, already mastered very different challenges, in the following year we will remeber them.”[3] Shortly after, crisis ridden workers in Great Britain were motivated by a similar sense of national community. They reminded their Labour government of its long made promises by means of a wildcat strike demanding “British Jobs for British Workers”. Here the other side of such “common spirit” of culturalized nationalism becomes clear. Namely the fact that its ideal of affirming differences is based on precarious conditions of bourgeois political economy. As long as the capitalist factory runs well every working worker is welcome at least until the next crisis argument provides the legitimation to reorganize the inventory of Human Resources on a national level.
This present situation illustrates the urgency for a critique of nationalism. So for us as artists the question arises how a cultural nationalism can be confronted in the field of visual arts. Therefore we attempt to discuss realist potentials in art beyond the mere idealization of neoliberal subjectivisms from self-entrepreneurship to “Du-bist-Deutschland” (You-are-Germany[4]). The cultural revitalization of a nationalist romanticism calls for the actualization of realism – a realist stance in art confronting these contemporary forms of national naturalization. But still, it seems that art has more in common with police than with politics. The romantic idea of the artist continues to serve as a tool for subjectivist normalisation. However, the producer of art is still a subject of the enlightenment and as such capable of solidarity and collectivity without the abandonment of identity. Realism as artistic solidarity in opposition to new cultural strategies of nationalism is what we want to address. This is not achieved in the mere reenactment of the historical framework of the debates on realism in visual arts since the beginning of the 19th century. Realism must continously be redeveloped concerning its specific relation to respective historical conditions of crisis.


[1] such as “Made in Germany”, Hannover 2007 or “Vertrautes Terrain”, ZKM Karlsruhe 2008. And in 2009 celebrating the 60th aniversary of Germany: “Flagge zeigen?”, Haus der Geschichte Bonn as well as “SIXTY YEARS. SIXTY WORKS.”, Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin. And on April 25, 2009 the contemporary art exhibition “2000 Years Varus Battle. COLOSSAL – Art Fact Fiction” (curated by former documenta boss Jan Hoet) celebrates the 2000th aniversary of the founding myth of german identity – the Varus battle in the Teuteburger forest in the Osnabrücker Land. Under the topic “Deutschland 2009″ the Kulturstiftung des Bundes sponsors a range of projects in different art fields such as the theatre project „60 Years in Germany – Warming up to an Uncomfortable Identity“ or the exhibition “Art of Two Germanys / Cold War Cultures” in the Germanische Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg and in the DHM Berlin. Also in cinema the national birthday is celebrated with “Deutschland 09 – 13 kurze Filme zur Lage der Nation” in collaboration with some of the most well known german star-directors.

[2] Max Klebb in “Die Absage an die Nation Kollektivieren”, invitation call for a conference on art and (anti)natioanlism in Berlin, February 2009.

[3] Quoted after Ivo Bozic: “Wollt Ihr den Normalen Krieg?”, in Jungle World Nr. 2, January 2009 (http://jungle-world.com/artikel/2009/02/32405.html )

[4] Du bist Deutschland – “You are Germany” was a social marketing campaign in Germany. Its aim was to achieve positive thinking and a new national feeling.

Taking Measures – Realism Seminar