The role of public art in forging hybrid ‘realist-modernist’ architecture and public spaces in the GDR.

Jenkins, Jessica ORCID logoORCID: (2021) The role of public art in forging hybrid ‘realist-modernist’ architecture and public spaces in the GDR. In: Building, Art-in-Architecture and Design in Eastern Germany and Europe in the Post-War Era: International two-day conference for researchers, scientists, artists, citizens, cultural politicians and activists, 1st–2nd October 2021, Stadthalle, Chemnitz, Germany.

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Abstract / Summary

The role of public art in forging hybrid ‘realist-modernist’ architecture and public spaces in the GDR.
How do we define “modernist” in the East German context? Should scholars be pointing to the differences or the similarities with the once impenetrable fortress of Western modernism? A nuanced picture helps to identify the uniqueness and thus case for appropriate evaluation in terms of the heritage of East German architectural ensembles.
In my book, Picturing Socialism, a study of public art, design and architecture in the former German Democratic Republic, 1945–1990, I make the case that ‘realism’, the key signifier of socialist difference in the 1950s years of National Reconstruction was never completely relinquished in the GDR. In spite of the pressures created by the shift to industrialised building, and the oft conflicting ambitions of political leaders, architects, planners, artists and designers, the ‘realist’ ideal of a socialist architecture, was able to continually re-invent itself. ‘Realism’ both as a term and as an ideal was maintained by political conservatives who sought to create a socialist architecture defined not through similarities to the West but through differences to ‘capitalist’ architecture. Whilst the term was not embraced by reforming theorists and practitioners who sought to be ‘modern’ and ‘modernist’, these reformers too sought to locate but largely dematerialise the socialist qualities of architecture. The dilemma of how to satisfy realist demands and modernist desires was in large part resolved through the role played by public art within a built environment, conceptualised within the discipline of design as it emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The vast array of public art and design in the GDR – murals, mosaics, sculptures and other forms – maintained the requisite ideological inscription within industrially produced building ensembles. This paper sets out to demonstrate how narrative works of art, as they became absorbed within the concept of socialist ‘complex environmental design’ (Flierl et al), acted as a kind of ideological glue between competing visions of architecture in the 1960s and 1970s. I will argue that the ‘realist’ ideal remained even as narrative art was diminished and modernism lost ground to historicism in the 1980s. Together, I hope these arguments will make the case for the nomination ‘realist Modernism’ as defining the unique contribution made by East German art and architecture, still partially extant in the territory of the former East Germany, to architectural and design history.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Arts > Architecture
Arts > Craft
Arts > Decorative Art
Arts > Graphic Arts
Arts > Historical
History > International
Arts > Symbolism, allegory, myth & legend
Depositing User: Jessica Jenkins
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2021 16:28
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2022 16:20


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