My PhD examines the persistent engagement of postwar German artists with the familial, and the concepts of identity, history and paternity, which are inextricably connected to it. My project initially grew out of my frequent returns to the Gerhard Richter: Panorama retrospective at Tate Modern while I was completing my MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art. After my thirteenth (!) visit to the exhibition, I decided to make the artist and specifically his series of paintings S. with Child (1995) the focus of my dissertation. After writing about these works, I felt that earlier German representations of the familial and self in portraiture warranted more extensive examination.
My PhD research focuses on a generation of German artists whose artistic careers were launched in the volatile era of the 1960s and 1970s – including artists such as Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), Georg Baselitz (b. 1938), Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), and Isa Genzken (b. 1948) – artists whose works reveal an unprecedented exploration of the familial in West Germany. As I will argue, their works are representative of a wider engagement with the familial in postwar West German cultural productions, including in cinema and literature, particularly in the new genre of Väterliteratur. I am exploring how their repeated confrontations with, and self-stagings via, both German and personal histories, address the legacy and significance of the ideology of the familial, as well as the changing relations between the private and public sphere. Directly tied to this, I consider their portrayal of the familial in context of the larger cultural and political debates regarding the family and the familial during the Cold War. Far from representing a comfortable retreat into the sentimental or domestic, visualisations of the familial in Cold War West Germany negate individual as well as artistic autonomy. Put more succinctly: my PhD explores how German artists repeatedly (de)construct and perform various (artistic) identities via the familial.
I am currently conducting research at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte (ZI) in Munich, where I am examining German conceptions of artistic identity. What did it mean to construct an artistic persona in West Germany? What different conceptions of artistic identity existed in Cold War Germany? And how were these being challenged and redefined by cultural producers in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s? My research at the ZI explores the public and political instrumentalisation of artists, in contrast to their self-representations through, and via the familial. In my thesis, I aim to articulate how these artistic self-fashionings are embedded not only in the politicised formalist debates in postwar Germany, but also in the broader cultural questioning of identity construction in West Germany during the Cold War.
Olivia Tait is completing her PhD at UCL under the supervision of Sarah E. James. Her research is funded by the AHRC. She is currently a Franz Roh fellow (http://www.zikg.eu/projekte/stipendiatenprojekte/tait-performing-the-self-conceptions-of-artistic-2018identity2019-in-the-frg-1961-1989) at the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich.
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