Events | East-German Artistic Networks of the 1980s: Lecture & Conversation with Stephanie Barron, Constanze Fritzsch, and Isotta Poggi

Thomas Mann House | February 20, 2024

Start: 7 p.m. (PT) | By Invitation Only

Join the Getty Research Institute (GRI) and Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House for an evening that will provide exclusive insights into the Getty’s comprehensive collection of East German artists’ books from the 1980s. After a presentation of highlights from the collection, curators Stephanie Barron (LACMA) and Isotta Poggi (GRI), with art historian Constanze Fritzsch (Fulbright Fellow at the GRI) will engage in a conversation about the collection and its meaning for contemporary transatlantic discourse and East Germany’s forgotten history.

Thomas Gunther and Sabine Jahn, „an den eisernen adler gelehnt“ in Berlinheft: Entdeckungen aus dem Zwielicht (East Berlin, 1988), gelatin silver print collage. © Sabine Jahn and Thomas Günther Estate

In the last decade of the East German regime, artists wove dynamic networks to exchange art and ideas. They built alternative communication channels through artists’ books and magazines that together are a remarkable memory of the spirit of the time. Most of these publications (called samizdat for “self-published” in Russian) are collaborative projects of artists’ groups or collectives who produced small editions to circumvent censorship, while also to celebrate mutual friendship and solidarity in a playful atmosphere of experimentation.

On the fifth anniversary of Edition Augenweide, Jörg Kowalski wrote that it was not so much political ambitions that inspired the making of the first book, but rather the longing for that atmosphere of openness and trust that is necessary for art to flourish. This group’s aim was to draw on book art traditions of the twenties while finding an innovative synthesis between literary content and art design. These artistic and literary projects provided a forum outside of the official discourse of the GDR and developed a new literary and visual language that would defy artistic dogmas.

These rare editions, combining a variety of original graphic media on paper and vintage photographs with poetry and prose, offer an opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue on a period of transformation and reform that ended with a peaceful revolution and the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989.

As part of the Thomas Mann House annual topic "Democracy & Vulnerability," it is crucial to revisit and reconsider these artists. The independent artistic and cultural networks resonate with the debates of writers and artists in the Thomas Mann House who sought creative spaces while in exile and means of creating art outside of censorship. Los Angeles hosted the innovative exhibition “Art of Two Germanys ” organized by LACMA in 2009 and is home to the Wende Museum, which focuses on Cold War history. These resources provide an opportunity for dialogue on the past and the present about the artistic and existential debates that contributed to and shaped a period of historical reform and transformation. They can shed new light on East Germany’s forgotten (or ignored) history.

Join acclaimed curators and art historians Stephanie Barron, Constanze Fritzsch, and Isotta Poggi for a conversation on how these materials are vibrant witnesses of a generation who made art to find a voice.

Attendance information

Attendance by invitation only.


Stephanie Barron is Senior Curator and Modern Art Department Head at LACMA. Among her exhibitions and publications over the past 40 years are The Russian Avant- Garde: 1910-1930: New Perspectives; German Expressionist Sculpture; ’Degenerate Art’: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany; Exiles + Émigrés- The Flight of European Artists from Hitler; Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, and exhibitions of Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Frank Gehry, David Hockney, Ed Kienholz, Sharon Lockhart, John McLaughlin, Rene Magritte, and Ken Price. She has received the Order of Merit, First Class and the Commander’s Cross from the German government in recognition of her work in the field of modern German art. Her exhibitions and publications have five times been voted the best in the United States by the International Art Critics Association, three times by the Art Museum Curators Association, and she has twice received the College Art Association’s Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for best museum catalog. A long standing member of the Art Advisory Panel of the IRS, she is a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and trustee of the John Baldessari Foundation, past chair of the Mike Kelley Foundation, and serves on the board of The Industry Los Angeles.

Constanze Fritzsch is a Fulbright Fellow at the GRI. She holds a doctorate from the Catholic University in Eichstätt-Ingolstadt after getting her MA in art history from the University Paris Nanterre and her BA in art history from University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She got a fellowship of the ENS de Paris as a foreign exchange student. She is a former member of the “Á chacun son reel” research project run by the German Forum for Art History in Paris and worked as an assistant curator at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. She has been on the academic staff at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden and the University of Leipzig and Dresden, and worked as a student assistant at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris.

Isotta Poggi is associate curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Her collecting interests focus on the cultural history of photography from the nineteenth century through contemporary, as a medium for documentary and artistic practice, and as a narrative tool in albums, photobooks, and artists’ books. In 2018 she co-curated the exhibition Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary at the Wende Museum, and co-edited the accompanying volume. Drawing on the extensive archival holdings and special collections of the Getty Research Institute, she is currently directing the research project “On the Eve of Revolution: The East German Artist in the 1980s.”

This event is a collaboration between the Getty Research Institute and Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House.

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