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Black Red Colt

Painter Wasja Götze: East Germany´s Pop Art Pioneer

It would take several more years after the end of the GDR befo­re pain­ter Was­ja Göt­ze final­ly wal­ked under the spot­light of the art busi­ness. While the Pina­ko­thek der Moder­ne in Munich purcha­sed at least one of Götze’s key pain­tings short­ly after the ‘Peace­ful Revo­lu­ti­on’ of 1989, the muni­ci­pal art muse­um in Hal­le (Saa­le) com­ple­te­ly igno­red the pionee­ring artist for a long time. It was only in 2016, after a chan­ge of direc­tors, when an over­due exhi­bi­ti­on beca­me a furious dis­co­very of the non-con­for­mist pain­ter, that the artist felt as though he had final­ly been wel­co­med to his home­town – he’s now just as pre­sent in the new­ly estab­lis­hed collec­tion pre­sen­ta­ti­on of the Kunst­mu­se­um Moritz­burg in Hal­le as in the major the­ma­tic exhi­bi­ti­ons on East Ger­man art.

Was­ja Göt­ze was born in 1941 in Alt­mü­geln, Sax­o­ny and has been living in Hal­le sin­ce 1962. He the­re­fo­re con­si­ders hims­elf a ‘pain­ting her­mit’. His ‘rejec­tion’ began short­ly after his stu­dies of com­mer­cial gra­phic art, under­ta­ken bet­ween 1962 and 1968 at the Hoch­schu­le für indus­tri­el­le Form­ge­stal­tung in Hal­le, the name of the legen­da­ry ‘Gie­bichen­stein Cast­le’ at the time, whe­re he stu­di­ed under Lothar Zitz­mann, Fried­rich Enge­mann and Wal­ter Funkat. Was­ja Göt­ze was decla­red per­so­na non gra­ta in Hal­le in May 1969 due to an unof­fi­cial ‘yard exhi­bi­ti­on’ orga­nis­ed in his house’s inner courty­ard. After a cubist pha­se, the pain­ter was alrea­dy expe­ri­men­ting with sty­listic tools of Pop Art, a chal­len­ge hard­ly anyo­ne in the GDR took serious­ly. In addi­ti­on to the sub­ject of Euro­pean Pop art, his pic­tures were also inspi­red by ‘bizar­re­ly eccentric sym­bo­lic signals of ena­mel­led metal she­ets from the first half of the century’2. For the Natio­nal Defence Minis­try of the time, which ban­ned the court exhi­bi­ti­on in 1969 after a mere three days of life with the help of the inco­m­ing district pro­se­cu­tor, the­se stran­ge-loo­king art pie­ces were undoub­ted­ly pro­of that Göt­ze was a fol­lower of the 1968 movement.

With this assess­ment, Was­ja Götze’s artis­tic path was rigo­rous­ly obst­ruc­ted. After the ban, the 28-year-old was also ban­ned from the cast­le. It was pla­ced with the rector’s offi­cial seal on the university’s bul­le­tin board – as though he were a wan­ted man. Howe­ver, it was sim­ply impos­si­ble to sepa­ra­te Was­ja Göt­ze from the cast­le. Most­ly becau­se he sym­bo­li­sed the impul­si­ve and unbrid­led ener­gies of this once free-spi­ri­ted insti­tu­ti­on. During tho­se years, he took a step into the unknown and from then on worked as a sta­ge desi­gner in Ber­lin. His acquain­tance with sta­ge desi­gner and pain­ter Achim Frey­er, who­se ‘cle­ver sere­ni­ty’ fasci­na­ted him, bore fruit later on. Frey­er was the first important artist to tre­at young Göt­ze with respect and encouragement.

Working at the Ber­lin thea­tres hel­ped Was­ja Göt­ze have a con­tras­ting expe­ri­ence that would have a decisi­ve influ­ence later in his life. In 1973, his work „Abschied von H. oder Es kann nicht immer Lie­be sein“ alrea­dy testi­fied to the sti­mu­li he expe­ri­en­ced in Ber­lin. Was­ja Göt­ze said about this key work: ‘It was the time when I said to mys­elf: now we are going to paint seriously!’

Was­ja Götze

His pain­tings had to be ‘loud and colour­ful’ ins­tead of quiet and grey. The spe­ci­fic adap­t­ati­on of Pop art by Was­ja Göt­ze repla­ced the pro­ducts fea­tured in Wes­tern con­sump­ti­on, which he hims­elf only per­cei­ved from a distance, through the sub­jects burs­t­ing from com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da. The ‘new rea­lism’ of non­con­for­mist pain­ters like Was­ja Göt­ze dif­fe­red from the sta­te-offi­cial model of rea­lism more than anything else in that it inclu­ded the topic of coun­ter morals in artis­tic pro­duc­tion, ins­tead of refer­ring to a puri­fied pocket of aes­the­tic selfdetermination.

The cen­tral place of his life, howe­ver, remai­ned Hal­le, the city that was abu­sed in the 1980s, reck­less­ly aban­do­ned to rot away. The city was the sta­ge of obscu­re exhi­bi­ti­on bans and pre­ma­tu­re clo­sures of his rare expo­si­ti­ons. Even when the cul­tu­ral-poli­ti­cal wind tur­ned in a more favoura­ble direc­tion for his art, exhi­bi­ti­ons in his home­town remai­ned a taboo – ins­tead, his colour­ful works, which in the late 1970s beca­me encoded sym­bols of indi­vi­du­al dis­tress, could be seen from time to time out­side the Hal­le district.

In a state­ment for the ‘Gegen­stim­men’ exhi­bi­ti­on (2016) in Berlin’s Mar­tin-Gro­pi­us-Bau, Was­ja Göt­ze descri­bed the essence of tho­se GDR years as fol­lows: ‘I did not make my way loud­ly and deman­din­gly into the public like some other GDR artists, becau­se I had come to the fol­lowing rea­li­sa­ti­on: in this coun­try my art was pre­desti­ned to encoun­ter dis­plea­su­re, non-accep­t­ance, con­tempt and enmi­ty. My life­style and my poli­ti­cal and moral atti­tu­de were rejec­ted in this coun­try. If I didn’t want to lea­ve my home­land, and wan­ted to stay true to mys­elf, then I had to pay the pri­ce in this dic­ta­tor­s­hip: I had to dis­re­gard my art and deny it. I respec­ted the facts and con­ti­nued painting.’

Was­ja Götze’s uni­que artis­tic and his­to­ri­cal posi­ti­on in East Ger­ma­ny didn’t initi­al­ly count much in the Ger­man art sce­ne after 1989 – the the­ma­ti­sa­ti­on of the wall, bar­bed wire, and ‘red tele­pho­ne’ (‘Das rote Tele­fon’, 1971) was at best suf­fi­ci­ent to allow the illus­tra­ti­on of con­tem­pora­ry his­to­ri­cal pha­ses. Thus, one can find pic­tures in the pre­mi­ses of con­tem­pora­ry histo­ry muse­ums today, in the pre­mi­ses of the Hau­ses der Geschich­te in Bonn/Leipzig you can also find the pain­ting ‘Still Life with Unin­vi­ted Guest’ 1978 by Was­ja Göt­ze, which of cour­se belon­ged to the pro­gram­me of the gre­at art muse­ums. But even after 1989, at an advan­ced age (Was­ja Göt­ze expe­ri­en­ced the 1990 reuni­fi­ca­ti­on at the age of 49), artists like Was­ja Göt­ze no lon­ger wis­hed to expe­ri­ence a posi­ti­ve rela­ti­ons­hip vis a vis the mar­ke­ting needs of a visu­al artist – as the painter’s son, Moritz Göt­ze, suc­cee­ded in doing with arduous, pas­sio­na­te refinement.

Thus, a pain­ter the calibre of Was­ja Goe­t­ze remai­ned ‘invi­si­ble’ for a long time. The dif­fi­cult years of repres­si­on were fol­lo­wed by more adven­tur­ous years under ‘Schwarz-Rot-Colt’ (1991/92) with their mad dis­tor­ti­ons during the tran­si­ti­on of a sys­tem into its appa­rent oppo­si­te. Was­ja Göt­ze sought and gai­ned inner peace by retur­ning to his own strengths – tho­se that would help him achie­ve inde­pen­dence through paid labour as a bicy­cle mecha­nic. The tech­ni­ques acqui­red in the GDR repre­sen­ted ano­t­her advan­ta­ge inso­far as auto­no­mous self-orga­ni­sa­ti­on was con­cer­ned. Just as one used to reset the clocks after he went to the ‘Gose’ or the ‘Moh­ren’ in the evening for his night­cap, Was­ja Göt­ze sim­ply con­ti­nued pain­ting in his small attic studio.

Anyo­ne who mana­ges to strike this dif­fi­cult balan­ce, by dar­ing to go out into the world without an anchor of sorts, and con­stant­ly chal­len­ges hims­elf, can only be an inde­pen­dent pain­ter with princi­ples, des­pi­te the fact his pain­tings have made it out into the wider world just a few years back. For Was­ja Göt­ze, pain­ter, gra­phic artist and object artist, the­se two oppo­si­te strengths beca­me the basis for a bril­li­ant life work that will be dis­co­ve­r­ed, with some asto­nish­ment, by how high-qua­li­ty it is.

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1961 in Freiberg/Sachsen geboren, Kultur- und Kunstwissenschaftler, Kurator und Publizist. Seit 2017 Direktor des Dresdner Institutes für Kulturstudien. Zahlreiche Bücher zum Kunstsystem in der DDR, zuletzt Boheme in der DDR. Kunst und Gegenkultur im Staatssozialismus, Dresden 2016. Kurator und Co-Kurator von Ausstellungen zur ostdeutschen Kunst, u.a. „Abschied von Ikarus. Bildwelten in der DDR – neu gesehen“ Neues Museum Weimar, 2012/2013. Derzeit bereitet er die Ausstellung vor „Point of No Return. Wende und Umbruch in der ostdeutschen Kunst“, Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig.

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