January 1983. (10 20 30 40)

Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

January 1983. (10 20 30 40)


Twenty years ago, Artforum addressed "Zeitgeist," a major international group survey trumpeting the return of painting. Senior editor Eric Banks looks back at German critic Wolfgang Max Faust's essay on that controversial Berlin exhibition.

FOR COCURATOR CHRISTOS JOACHIMIDES, the exhibition represented "a titanic battle, riddled with contradictions, before the walls of Troy.... Walls which history may often demolish, but which still encircle our consciousness." For critic Douglas Crimp, it was a brazenly reactionary "denial of the realities of the political climate," excluding "any art that might unsettle the mystificatory tendencies which [the curators] presented as exemplary of the spirit of the times." Revolution or palace coup? Whatever else might be said of the 1982 Berlin group show "Zeitgeist," it struck a nerve--no minor feat, following, as it did, on the heels of Documenta 7 and the 40th Venice Biennale. Indeed, Joachimides and Norman Rosenthal's forty-six-artist neo-expressionist survey, staged a few yards from the Berlin Wall at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, incited as much rancorous criticism as any early-'80s exhibition.

Artforum's response to "Zeitgeist," published twenty years ago this month, was itself pretty zealous. For the German critic and art historian Wolfgang Max Faust the emphatic "return to painting" championed by the exhibition signaled nothing less than another crowning, originary moment in postwar art: "What the 1982 Venice Biennale and Documenta 7 did not or could not show is made the center of attention here. Just as art had to 'go through' language (conceptual art), nature (land art), technical media (photography, film, video), the artist's body (body art), and physical action (happenings, performances), presently much of its development seems to need to 'go through' images." It was as if Faust had happily found himself in the middle of "Primary Structures" or "When Attitudes Become Form." He delved into the broader implications of the art hanging in the former crafts museum: The liberatory focus on "figurative expression" enabled a "multitude of stylistic possibilities" rather than the "continuation of a o ne-track tradition" in painting. As he worked his way through the contributors to the exhibition--father figures like Polke, Beuys, Twombly, and Baselitz, the Italian contingent of Chia, Clemente, and Cucchi, young Germans ranging from Jiri Georg Dokoupil and Salome to odd-fellow upstarts Walter Dahn and Werner Buttner, and a passel of Americans on the uptick (Schnabel, Salle, Rothenberg, Borofsky)--he spotted a salutary "esthetic of dispersal": This development makes possible a "multiple self that detaches itself from our familiar conceptions of a functioning subjectivity and of an identity found through art."

In conception and execution, "Zeitgeist" encouraged grand critical statements tying together the various tendencies in the show. …

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