The Early Years of the Old Masters


Hall for Contemporary Art 13 September 2019 — 5 January 2020

Baselitz, Richter, Polke, and Kiefer – four world-famous artists whose renown is unique in the history of the visual arts in Germany. They laid the foundations for this fame with their early work in the 1960s – a decade of challenges and upheavals, utopias and reorientations, reaction and rebellion. All four artists, who will be featured together for the first time in this exhibition, paved the way for the unprecedented renown that they later experienced in Germany and abroad.

The exhibition offers a new and comprehensive look at the early works of these current star painters and asks why these four German artists in particular have become the focus of interest in art around the world. Each of these artists overcame the aesthetic dominance of abstraction at the time in their own way and uniquely distilled the social and political tensions of the young Federal Republic of Germany in their works. All four dealt intensively with their own past, with the horror of National Socialism, which threatened to be forgotten or was simply repressed during Germany’s economic miracle. Especially in painting, this was perceived as an extreme provocation. The artists did not aim to be political; rather, at the same time as Fluxus, happenings, and Pop Art, they sought to forge new paths in painting.

With more than 100 paintings, books, and films from around 45 museum and private collections, the exhibition presents the early work from the following creative periods of the artists: 1959–1969 for Georg Baselitz, 1962–1969 for Gerhard Richter, 1963–1969 for Sigmar Polke, and 1969–1977 for Anselm Kiefer.

Apart from Sigmar Polke, who died in 2010, all three artists have supported the exhibition not only with singular loans from their collections, but also with their willingness to engage in detailed discussions with the curator of the exhibition, Götz Adriani, on their respective early work and its special status. These interviews appear in the extensive exhibition catalog. The renowned art historian Götz Adriani is not only a contemporary witness of this generation, but has repeatedly featured the artists in exhibitions over the past few decades.

With this exhibition, on 9 November the Deichtorhallen will not only celebrate its 30th anniversary, but also 30 years of German unity. The exhibition The Early Years of the Old Masters: Baselitz – Richter – Polke – Kiefer is a joint project with the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and is under the patronage of the Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

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Video Teaser

Video Götz Adriani about the exhibition



Götz Adriani: Baselitz, Richter, Polke, Kiefer – The Early Years of the Old Masters. Edited by the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; Deichtorhallen Hamburg, published at Sandstein Verlag, 342 pages, 360 illustrations, colour and black-and-white, 30,5 x 23,5 cm, Hardcover, Available as of 12 April 2019
, 48 Euros


Thursday, 12 September 2019, 7 p.m. at the Hall for Contemporary Art
Speakers: Carsten Brosda (Minister of Culture and Media Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg), Dirk Luckow (General director of Deichtorhallen Hamburg) and Götz Adriani (Curator of the exhibition)
Free admission