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New Leipzig School

The New Leipzig School refers to a group of male painters who studied together at the Art Academy in Leipzig (one of the major city centers of the German Democratic Republic) during the early 1990s. (The term was popularized during the early 2000s, when American collectors Don and Mera Rubell began to acquire work by Neo Rauch, Martin Kobe, Matthias Weischer, and their peers.) The category New Leipzig School does not refer to a movement, but to an affiliation of students who came of age as artists in a newly reunited Germany and whose practices were formed by the history of that place as well as the history of painting in that place. Generally, the character of East German art changed very little during the years of the Iron Curtain; the government’s clampdown on its citizens’ exposure to the cultural developments and artistic output of Western Europe—as well the heavy censorship it imposed on artists—wielded significant influence on both art training and art-making, such that the ascendance of Abstract Expressionism in Western Europe and North America seemed to have had no bearing on Eastern Bloc painting, which remained figurative and grounded in realism, resistant even to later movements such as Minimalism and Conceptualism. Thus, art academies including Leipzig’s remained rooted in 19th century teaching conventions, with curriculums that emphasized figure drawing, formal analysis of composition and perspective, draftsmanship, and color theory well into the 1990s.

That the New Leipzig School artists were educated by painters brought up in this traditional climate is borne out in the works they have produced, which are both figurative and evince extreme technical proficiency. Their compositions are often stylized, featuring a color palate and iconography reminiscent of Socialist Realism or nodding to classic modernism through complicated and detailed recreations of 1950s and 60s architecture and interiors. There is also a strong an emphasis on narrative, which is conveyed through surreal tableaux that seem almost theatrical, and are often tinged with melancholy. However, it is important to note that, unlike schools of art such as De Stijl or Fluxus, there is no stated social, political, or aesthetic philosophy or agenda that these works were conceived to advance.

Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.