Neo Rauch: Para in the Met

In 2007 Rauch painted a serie of works especially for the mezzanine of the modern art wing at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. This special solo exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum was called “Para.” Rauch explains that he enjoys the associations the word “para” evokes and that his works at “Para” don’t have a particular intention, but that they could signify anything to anyone. His works were painted with the low ceiling and windowless space of the mezzanine in mind, Rauch explains, but this is hard to discover in his works, and the association might be purely existing in Rauch’s own experience.

The nihilist guideline to the exhibition denying any ideological intention is but a blase statement and nothing less than a smoke screen for such a narrative and figurative artist like Rauch who further explains that he believes in being bound by location and time. Such cultural relativist statement are nothing but the bourgeois resistance against a system of cultural and ideological oppression by a ‘labor class dictatorship.’

Para
Works at the “Para” exhibition:

* Jagdzimmer (Hunter’s room), 2007
* Vater (Father), 2007
* Die Fuge (The Fugue/The Gap), 2007
* Warten auf die Barbaren (Waiting for the Barbarians), 2007
* Para, 2007
* Paranoia, 2007
* Goldgrube (Gold Mine), 2007
* Vorort (Suburb), 2007
* Der nächste Zug (The Next Move/The Next Draw), 2007
* Die Flamme (The Flame), 2007

The works created for “Para” are characterized by three elements: a pre-communist civic-mindedness, communist Social Realism and an idealized country-side in the German Voelkisch tradition. Leipzig, Rauch’s city of birth, is known historically as a city of trade through its association with the Leipzig Trade Fair. This civic-mindedness of a trader’s city also expressed itself under communism where Leipzig was the center of popular resistance that led to Die Wende. Rauch uses characters and images of life of pre-communist civil society that was oppressed by communism in the GDR. The oppression of communism and the total control of civic life under the rule of communist ideology is one of the elements of Rauch’s work. The destructive powers of ideologies is perhaps the reason why Rauch refuses to interpret his own work as a powerful statement in favor of a cultural relativism that characterized the civic bourgeois thought that was destroyed.

The Leipzig School of Art
The Wall not only protected artists from western influences like Joseph Beuys and the abstract school, it also preserved existing influences of academic style in the tradition of Cranach and Beckmann. Young West German artists even moved to Leipzig to follow a more traditional and academic curriculum.

Under the administration of the Dresden Art Academy, the Leipzig Drawing Academy was opened in 1764. The art school was extended with a broader curriculum. In 1947 it was reopened as the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst. It was only in the 60s that the school became an important center for painting under the GDR.

Rauch is a bridge between the official pictography of the GDR and the modern artists from the West. Although he grew up in the GDR and was trained at the conservative Leipzig Academy, he was young enough to undergo the influence of change and he wrote his thesis on West German abstract painters of the 1950’s. The Leipzig School is in essence a conservative school, and in the case of Rauch this is expressed in the usage of historic themes and styles of both Social Realism and a more Voelkisch style. This tradition and conservatism is in essence the characteristic of the civic-minded Prussian culture as it exists in Leipzig en East Germany.

Links:
Neo Rauch @Wikipedia
Metropolitan – Neo Rauch
The New Yorker – Review Para
The New Leipzig School @New York Times
Neo Rauch @Goethe Institut
Hochschule für Graphik und Buchkunst

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