5 German Artists You Should Know, on View in Galerie Thomas’s Art Basel Booth

Art fair staple Galerie Thomas has shown at Art Basel nearly every year since its inception, and true to form, the Munich-based gallery returns this year with a booth brimming with works by top German artists. Ranging from modern to contemporary, figurative to abstract, and including Gerhard Richter, the artist Fondation Beyeler recently called “arguably the most important artist of our time,” the presentation is a must-see stop along your Art Basel route.

Emil Nolde: Deeply affected by the Nazis, and a fellow German Expressionist, Emil Nolde was acclaimed for his emotive figures and inflections of Primitivism, particularly in intaglio prints. In his later years, he worked in secret, avoiding Nazi persecution and primarily creating watercolors. Sunflowers were a common subject for the artist; two prime examples are on view at Art Basel. Brilliant compositions that meld form and color into overarching dialogues on the medium, these works precede his final years, when he was forbidden from painting in 1941. 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: A founding member of the Dresden group Die Brücke, Kirchner was a prominent German Expressionist, known for psychologically charged compositions, bold black-and-white woodblock prints, and his use of vibrant color. In 1937, the Nazis destroyed hundreds of his works, deeming them “degenerate”; the following year, Kirchner, who had been discharged from the army for mental illness, killed himself. Rastende Spaziergänger (Walkers resting) (1918) is a reflection of the artist’s staccato brushstrokes, undaunted use of color—especially when depicting people—and ability to create harmonious compositions.

Gerhard Richter: Currently celebrated in a retrospective at Fondation Beyeler—his largest Swiss exhibition to date—the acclaimed Dresden-born painter Gerhard Richter defies categorization. He is a master of abstraction, photorealism, and practices that are uniquely his own—including a squeegee technique that results in ingenious abstractions, a process revealed in an acclaimed 2011 documentary. At Art Basel, Galerie Thomas shows Grau (Grey) (1974), a monochromatic grey canvas covered with rhythmic, gestural marks of texture. Part of the artist’s historic “Grey Paintings” series, it is one such work that was inspired by the color—its neutrality and investigations into surface and “nothingness.” As Richter once said, “It has the capacity that no other color has, to make ‘nothing’ visible.”

Georg Baselitz: A product of his German Expressionist forebears, Baselitz works in fervent, energetic brushstrokes, portraying figurative subjects with varying degrees of abstraction. Galerie Thomas shows an emblematic work by the artist, Franz Dahlem (1969), from his “upside-down” series, begun in 1969, in which he would create compositions that turned the physical world—be it portraits or landscapes—on its head. Intentionally painting his subjects inverted (not just turning them over once he had finished), Baselitz challenged the pictorial quality of his paintings, and the face value of his imagery. These works earned the artist attention, both positive and negative, which only encouraged him, and led him to delve into sculpture. His latest works, “Remixes,” are recreations of his own earlier works.

Anselm Kiefer: A student of law before turning to art, Kiefer creates sculptural, mixed-media two-dimensional works that meditate on the complex national identity of postwar Germany and mythologies that range from Germanic to Christian origin. He rose to prominence in 1980 when he was featured at the Venice Biennale, alongside Baselitz. Following the German reunification in 1991, Kiefer left Germany and settled in France, and a shift occurred in his artistic production—toward universal themes. Ich halte alle Indien in meiner Hand (I hold all the Indias in my hand) (2003) takes its title from a poem by Francisco de Quevedo, in which the poet meditates on a portrait of his beloved that he holds in his hand. The work, a photograph lushly covered in paint, lead, and emulsion, and inscribed with its title, depicts a person’s head struggling to stay above the tumultuous water, symbolically referring to man’s insignificance in the face of the natural world.

Visit Galerie Thomas at Art Basel 2014, Galleries, Booth F13, June 19th–22nd.

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