Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Goodbye Neo. Goodbye Leipzig.

Replacing Neo Rauch as a professor is not going as smoothly as one might have hoped here at Leipzig’s Academy Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst. As Die Tageszeitung’s Robert Schimke reports, the Cologne painter Heribert C. Ottersbach has been selected as the successor to Rauch after the international star of the Leipzig School decided to give up his professorship, due to his workload. According to Schimke, Rauch had his own favorite replacement: the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. Yet Borremans fell through the hiring process because he does not speak German well and lives too far away from the academy.

After convincing Borremans—both a painter and a filmmaker—to apply for the Leipzig position, Rauch reportedly believed that the artist’s twin specializations would be a nod to a portion of the faculty that has no warm feelings for the traditional Leipzig school of painting, including the academy’s rector Joachim Brohm. While Brohm insists that he was not involved in the hiring process, it doesn’t help matters that Ottersbach is a friend of Brohm and one of three painting professors who come from the Brohm’s Rhineland home in western Germany.

“Already in the past,” writes Schimke, “the rector had earned the reputation of taking his network into the Leipzig professorships.” Schimke doesn’t believe that the conflict represents a mere East-West career skirmish but rather a “cultural clash,” which began as a formalist debate in the 1950s in former East Germany and in the vilifications between state-branded German Democratic Republic painters and liberal-minded painters from the West.

Another antagonism lies in the marginalization throughout the 1990s of the Leipzig painters by new media art and more discursive artistic practices. Schimke speculates that Brohm—a photographer socialized by the arts scene in the Rhine region during the ’70s and ’80s—might just be quickening the end of the Leipzig School.


CAP said...

It’s interesting to read of the internal politics in this matter, especially for those of us who don’t read German. But how did someone like Brohm end up as Rector of the Leipzig Academy, anyway? I had assumed such posts were filled by locals, through gradual promotion. Then again, it’s curious, to say the least, that the out-going Professor’s wishes concerning a successor should be ignored on the grounds of inadequate German (something Rauch would surely have been aware of) and that the prestige of someone like Borremans is shunned for a lesser figure like Ottersbach.

Were choices to be strictly parochial, this might make sense, but as you note, Brohm and Ottersbach are from The Rhineland, so this is hardly to meet local sympathies. And travel from Belgium can scarcely be more inconvenient than from the other side of Germany. So the reasoning here is unconvincing. It seems they want the Academy to be more cosmopolitan, but not too cosmopolitan. This courts a fatal compromise.

But perhaps Ottersbach is a gifted teacher? – all appearances in his work to the contrary.

However it’s hard to see Ottersbach’s version of painting as any more appealing to opponents of painting, at the Academy. If the argument is that digital media are to be given more prominence at the Academy, at best, Ottersbach offers a feeble example for painting. But this will surely reflect more upon the administration’s resources than the current vigour of painting, generally. Painters will not turn to digital photography, just because they have a plodding professor. They will simply go to other schools.

And arguments for, say, the superiority of digital photography or video to painting, are hardly strengthened by electing a man of straw, like Ottersbach. The argument itself grows more strident as its flaws become more apparent (amply demonstrated by work such as Rauch’s)

It’s hard not to agree with Schimke that this looks like dubious networking by Brohm, a case of the mediocre attracting the mediocre. The ‘New Leipzig School’ has probably run its course, as a movement; unfortunately The Academy seems to have attracted its share of careerist administrators rather than inspiring artists, into the bargain. There is a clash of cultures here, but I tend to think it has less to do with ideology than self-promotion or preservation.

As an admirer of Rauch’s work, my hope is that he will at least remained based in Leipzig, and resist the lure of Berlin.

CAP said...

Where there's Smoke, there's crowds.