Haus der Kunst presents “Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965”, a major exhibition that explores the complex histories of art of the postwar era. For the first time in recent exhibition history, the exhibition examines the vibrant and turbulent postwar period as a global phenomenon in which artistic perspectives were intertwined with social, political, cultural, and technological interests.
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.
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.
Geographically it follows the coastlines of the two great oceans as representatives of the Atlantic and Pacific hemispheres, extending from Germany via Japan to South America, featuring around 180 artists from 50 countries: Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Willem de Kooning, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Ben Enwonwu, Jasper Johns, On Kawara, Krishen Khanna, Isamu Noguchi, Helio Oiticica, Colette Oluwabamise Omogbai, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerard Sekoto, Kazuo Shiraga, Andy Warhol a.o.
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.” Postwar therefore transcends the boundaries between continents, political systems, economic structures, and institutional frameworks. It seeks to understand the complex legacies of artistic practice and art historical discourses that emerged globally in the aftermath of World War II’s devastation.
Under the patronage of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany
“Postwar: Art between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965” is generously supported by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes, the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, and Goethe-Institut.