A good distraction: the best exhibitions of German art in the UK

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

By Alex Stuart

A number of smaller galleries in the UK are currently exhibiting German artists and, for now, remain open to the public. BASTIAN in London is showing the renowned German-born American artist Hans Hofman’s abstract works executed in the aftermath of the Second World War. Hofman opened an art school in Munich in 1915, stealing students away from the more conservative Akademie der Bildenden Kunst with his innovative teaching methods which included daubing directly onto the students’ work when demonstrating technique. Famously, one of his students was Lee Krasner, who was influenced by his bold use of colour and later went on to become one of the pioneers of abstract expressionism.

Yesterday, Sotheby’s 2 gallery in London opened a joint exhibition of Sigmar Polke and Michael Bluthe, two defining artists of the German post-war period. The exhibition follows a narrative of their mutual inspiration and influence as they start living together and with other artists communally, becoming increasingly experimental in their artistic practice as the century wore on.

Michael Buthe, Landschaft mit Schnecken (1990) - part of the 'buthe/polke: friends' exhibition at Sotheby's

In Leeds, the University’s Brotherton Gallery has curated over 165 items belonging to the great critic and historian Herbert Read’s personal library and collection. A self-proclaimed political anarchist, Read edited the still highly influential The Burlington Magazineand curated the first show of expressionist German art in the UK, just before the Second World War, in response to the Nazis’ degenerate art campaign. He was also one of the first scholars in the UK to acknowledge the burgeoning French existentialist movement.

In Edinburgh, the great German philosopher-turned-surrealist Max Ernst takes pride of place alongside the likes of Magritte and Dalí in the Scottish National Gallery’s Beyond Realism exhibition. Escape today’s ominous reality into a dreamworld of irrational images rendered in a realistic style.

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