Reconstructing the Subject: Modernist Painting in Western Germany, 1945-1950
Through an exploration of the reception of modernist painting, Yule Heibel discusses how West German artists, intellectuals, and audiences attempted to fashion a secure "image of man" in the wake of the most serious and radical crisis in modern history: Nazism and the Holocaust. In the period from 1945 to about 1950, expressive and "unbeautiful" elements in abstract painting were discursively and practically purged, mainly because expression was a reminder of dangerous and traumatized subjectivity. This purging resulted in a hegemony of "harmonious" abstract art, which critics to date have viewed primarily as a decorative art and thus an avoidance of Germany's twentieth-century history. Until now, no one has analyzed the discursive maneuvers of the late 1940s that encouraged painting to develop in this way.
Focusing on political, aesthetic, and theoretical issues, this book is an inquiry into the instability of subjectivity in Germany and its implications for the development of abstract painting. Drawing on the critical theory of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Heibel addresses such topics as the politicization of expression in light of Cold War rhetoric, the liberal model of social management of violence, and the U.S. contribution to postwar reconstruction and its relation to individualism. Key figures include painters E. W. Nay, Willi Baumeister, Theodor Werner, Fritz Winter, Werner Heldt, and Carl Hofer, and the critic Will Grohmann.