In an interview from 1990, German artist Georg Baselitz asserted that there were no artists in the GDR. Instead, there were “assholes” who had supported a criminal system by betraying the essence of true art. Baselitz’s statement exemplifies a remarkable feature of public discourse in 1990s Germany: the return of a Cold War rhetoric after the end of the Cold War. This presentation examines the cultural aspects of the German reunification process by focusing on the public debates on East German cultural heritage, in particular the stormy dispute over the meaning and relevance of East German art. It will be argued that since the visual arts had played an important role in the construction of an East German and a West German identity after World War II, the art debates of the 1990s reflect the broader issue of identity and belonging in post-socialist Germany.
Joes Segal is Chief Curator of The Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City, CA. Segal has published extensively on Cold War culture, German cultural history, and art and politics in the twentieth century. He is chair of the Culture Network of the European Social Science and History Conference (ESSHC) and managing editor of the International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity (HCM).