“Postwar”, Haus der Kunst, Munique, 14.10.16 — 26.03.17

Júlio Pomar, Estudo para Ciclo ‘Arroz’ II (Study for Rice Cycle II) 1953, Oil on masonite, 63 x 132 cm . Private Collection © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Fundação Júlio Pomar

“ Júlio Pomar considered art to be not merely an aesthetic expression but also a militant instrument for social, cultural, and political causes. In 1946 he joined the uprisings against Portugal’s para-fascist dictatorship, Estado Novo (new state), instituted by António Salazar. After the government’s violent suppression of dissidents, Pomar was imprisoned for a short time. 

The Estudo para Ciclo ‘Arroz’ (Study for Rice Cycle II, 1953) consists of three paintings. Even though each painting bears the title Étude  – suggesting quick studies – Pomar approached the subject with well-planned fieldwork. He visited the rice fields of Ribatejo, northeast of Lisbon, in 1953 with four other artists of the Portuguese neorealism movement. The group became acquainted with the area farmers, talking with them about their everyday life, observing their customs, and photographing their harvesting activities. The resulting paintings, therefore, are not landscapes in which people take a secondary role but a glorification of the human subjects – in this case, female peasants. 

The oblique line of strong, robust women forms the composition’s rigorous structure. Carrying tools on their shoulders, they walk toward the viewer in a remarkable display of determination. With focused gazes and stereotyped faces, they appear effortless in their movement; the statuesque posture of these monumental figures communicates only strength and energy. “

Petronela Soltész 

Resistência, 1946. Óleo sobre aglomerado, 33 x 73 cm. Col. Museu da Cidade / CML (Doação do artista) © Fundação Júlio Pomar

Biography of Júlio Pomar

“ Júlio Pomar (Born 1926 in Lisbon, Portugal) has explored both painting and writing to express his ideas. He enrolled at the Escola de Belas Artes Lisboa (Lisbon School of Fine Arts) in 1942 and transferred to the Porto Escola de Belas Artes (Porto School of Fine Arts) in 1944. Inspired by the Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari (1903–1962) and the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera (1886–1957), David Siqueiros (1896–1964), and José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), Pomar adopted neo-realism to express his anti-fascist beliefs. His activism against the Salazar-regime resulted in his expulsion from art school in 1946. After that, Pomar began to write for art and literature magazines and in 1947 held his first solo show at the Galeria Portugália in Porto. In 1950 Pomar studied the work of Francisco Goya in Spain, which greatly influenced his later works, such as Maria da Fonte (1947). In Portugal during the early 1950s he experimented with watercolor, gouache, ceramics, and printmaking, and painted portraits of many intellectuals. In 1956 he founded the cooperative Gravura. After moving to Paris in 1963, Pomar began to use acrylics for his colorful Neoexpressionist paintings and collages, with gestural brushstrokes, dynamic compositions and saturated colors. He created his first found-object assemblages in 1967. “ 

Em cima John Biggers, The History of Negro Education in Morris County, Texas, 1955. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Estate of John T. Biggers. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

“ Postwar: art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965 ” examines the vibrant and turbulent postwar period as a global phenomenon for the first time in recent exhibition history. In eight dramatic chapters, the exhibition guides visitors through the first 20 years following the end of World War II, demonstrating how artists coped with and responded to the traumas of the Holocaust, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; how the two political blocs of the Cold War exploited the arts and created competition between realism and abstraction, and how displacement and migration produced new cosmopolitan contexts across the world. The postwar period also marked the end of European colonial systems; the rise of nation-building, decolonization and liberation movements; the partition of countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East; as well as the civil rights movement in the United States. These changes unleashed an incredible energy visible in the art of the time. New technologies began to pour into everyday life; the space age fascinated artists as well as the masses, opening up a completely new and dynamic field of artistic consideration.

As an in-depth, global study, the exhibition shows painting, sculpture, installation, collage, performance, film, artist books, documents, photography, in total more than 350 works by 218 artists from 65 countries.

The term “Postwar” describes the historical period following the end of World War II in 1945. These years delineate the decisive defeat of Germany in Europe and of Japan in Asia, marking a turning point in global history. In the field of art, the postwar period marks a particular historical and cultural turning point, too, for it brought about the waning dominance of Western European art capitals and the rise of the international presence and hegemony of contemporary American art, popular culture, and mass media. The state of the arts also revealed a distinct ideological fault line: Behind the terms “socialist realism” and “abstraction” the simplifying binary between communism and capitalist democracy, socialism and liberal democracy was cast against the backdrop of the Cold War, which often obscured more complex motivations for artistic production.

On a global scale, however, several factors complicated this binary — decolonization struggles, independence movements, and anti-colonial resistance in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East — even as the Cold War powers courted and sought control of the new nations. These increasingly independent actors suggested quite different orientations and alliances — including pan-Africanism and the Non-Aligned Movement — in the wake of imperialism and the end of the war. 

Reflecting on the varied trajectories of thinking of this period “Postwar: art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965”  maps the itineraries of art and politics that interlocked the world into a single entity. The question was asked everywhere: what would global modernity look like? If we are to refigure the cartographies of postwar modernism, what sort of methodologies might we deploy? To what extent did the political exert pressure on the aesthetic, or the cultural on the artistic? In turn, how did artists, critics, and intellectuals negotiate, resist, or even subvert political ideologies or cultural nationalism?

Probing differing concepts of artistic modernity — such as abstraction, realism, figuration, and representation — the exhibition explores how individual receptions and formulations of modernism informed the variant manifestations of modern art. By following these divergent and convergent vectors of influence, the exhibition invites reflection on the development of art that straddles continents, political structures, economic patterns, and institutional frameworks.

Yet in another sense, “Postwar: art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965” is entirely unprecedented, in that for the first time it examines art of the postwar era from multiple perspectives — East and West, North and South, colonizer and colonized, Pacific and Atlantic. Organized in eight thematic sections, “Postwar” illuminates these epochal social changes – “Aftermath: Zero Hour and the Atomic Era”; “Form Matters”; “New Images of Man”; “Realisms”; “Concrete Visions”; “Cosmopolitan Modernisms”; “Nations Seeking Form”; “Networks, Media, and Communication”. 

 “Realisms”

The other half of the Cold War binary is, of course, the socialist realism of Soviet, Chinese, and Eastern and Central Europe. Here, to a greater extent, institutional appropriation came before, not after, artistic production. Nevertheless, accounts of this category, too, can be overly fixed. Even in the heyday of its enforcement, socialist realism was not a single style. Under Mao Zedong, Chinese artists produced large official portraits of the Chairman (Jia Youfu, Marching Across the Snow-covered Mount Minshan, 1965) and scenes depicting model workers, but there was also tolerance of traditional ink painting, with the addition of appropriate symbols of the new order, such as the red flag. In the Soviet Union, art from the 1940s to Josef Stalin’s death in 1953 is primarily characterized by affirmative images of work, especially by heroic images of party leaders (Wassilij Jakowlew, Portrait of Georgii Zhukov, Marshal of the Soviet Union, 1946). During the post-Stalinist thaw, genre painting influenced by the nineteenth-century Russian Wanderers became more prominent, as well as the “severe style,” influenced by Soviet art of the 1920s and early 1930s. Outside of the   

         

Renato Guttuso, Boogie-Woogie, 1953. Mart, Museo di arte contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Archivio Fotografico e Mediateca Mart . Alice Neel, Georgie Arce, 1953. The Estate of Alice Neel, New York

Soviet Union, because there was considerably more latitude for artists working with official socialist representation, such painters as the Czechoslovakian-born Willi Sitte made works that, while depicting officially sanctioned subjects, introduced personal drawing styles. Along with some works of moderate size intended for museums, this section emphasizes enormous public works, popular prints, and documentation. 

“Realisms” also includes the influential Mexican muralist painter David Siquieros; ideologically programmatic art by such U.S. artists as Norman Rockwell, who was associated with realist rendering and popular audiences; and Communist Party artists working outside Communist-run countries, including Renato Guttuso and Boris Taslitzky.

Boris Taslitzky, Riposte, 1951, Oil paint on canvas. TATE: Presented by the Friends of the TATE Gallery 1998 – © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Tate, London 2016 ( https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/taslitzky-riposte-t07431 )

 

 “New Images of Man”

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Auschwitz laid bare the failures of Western civilization. In the wake of these shocks came ambivalent political attempts to establish geopolitical systems that would be more just, through such new legal forms as the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — putatively global but in fact dominated by Western authority — and the struggles for full citizenship and autonomy of people in former European colonies. Philosophers and artists sought to inquire more deeply into human nature itself, in debates that included the discourses of négritude and existentialism, and the rights of individuals and groups within larger (often oppressive) social and political entities. “New Images” features pictorial versions of such inquiries, in which humans often appear battered, deformed by the horror of modern life, rent by the question of their own value. 

These artists often deliberately combined figuration and materialist facture, refusing the choice between abstraction and representation — or between physical and social life, seeing the binary as not only ideologically false but also deeply destructive. In 1950, at a postwar art conference in Darmstadt, Germany, political opposites Hans Sedlmayr and Theodor Adorno found surprising common ground in bemoaning the missing center of contemporary culture: contemporary art seemed unable to appeal to fundamental human concerns, including emotion and everyday life. This concern was echoed by such East German migrants as Georg Baselitz, who eschewed the politically charged choice between abstraction and socialist realism to render individual figures that were severely deformed but vigorously alive. MoMA’s New Images of Man exhibition (1959) gathered examples of contemporary art from twenty-three American and European artists, including Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, Albert Giacometti, and Jackson Pollock. In his introduction to the catalogue, theologian Paul Tillich warned of “the danger in which modern man lives: the danger of losing his humanity,” a danger located both in totalitarianism and in technologically-oriented mass society. 

The most significant counterforce to universalist Western humanism came, in different veins, from former European colonies. Leopold Senghor wrote in 1961 of the need to particularize and locate the human being, in contrast not only to modernist (Western) universalism but also to Marxist universalism: “Man is not without a homeland. He is not a man without color or history or country or civilization. He is West African man, our neighbor, precisely determined by his time and his place … a man humiliated for centuries less perhaps in his hunger and his nakedness than in his color and civilization, in his dignity as an incarnate man.” The laborers painted by Inji Efflatoun, for example, express this specific dignity. 

Sometimes, as with Franz Fanon’s “new man,” the formerly colonized claimed a moral right to define humanism broadly and universally, a right abrogated by the West with its inhuman behavior in war and colonization. We see this new humanism in the thinkers depicted by Indian artist Francis Newton Souza — colored bodies appropriating the traditional intellectual and ethical prerogative of Western man. South African artist Ernest Mancoba offered yet another restatement of universalist humanism. For him, differences in identity categories belonged to colonialism and underlie the fracturing of art: “In no domain more than in the arts has this systematic dichotomy caused such destruction of the very foundation to the human identity, as both belonging to nature and sharing in the essence of an ideal being.”

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Postwar, Realisms, Júlio Pomar: https://postwar.hausderkunst.de/en/artworks-artists/artists/j%C3%BAlio-pomar

https://postwar.hausderkunst.de/en/

https://postwar.hausderkunst.de/en/exhibitions/postwar-art-between-the-pacific-and-the-atlantic-1945-1965/realisms

https://postwar.hausderkunst.de/en/explore/pictures/section-4-realisms

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