Experimental Art in Late East Germany

NYU’s Deutsches Haus and the DEFA Film Library at UMass Amherst are collaborating on a 2-part virtual program, The Valor of the Misfit: Experimental Art in Late East Germany, which explores East Germany’s alternative art scene. In a conscious effort to bypass official structures controlling artistic production, this scene spanned painting, photography, literature, music and film. It also involved establishing private galleries and exhibition spaces to house an artistic emancipation movement that ultimately contributed to East Germany’s peaceful revolution of 1989.

The program includes the April 7-14 streaming of the groundbreaking 2009 documentary Claiming Space – The Independent Art Exhibit Scene in the GDR and an April 14 book talk with Sara Blaylock and Seth Howes about Blaylock’s new Parallel Public: Experimental Art in Late East Germany.


This program continues the DEFA Film Library’s multi-year effort to inspire interest and research on East Germany’s alternative art scene. The documentary Claiming Space will be added to DEFA Film Library’s collection on the Kanopy educational streaming platform later this year. 


The program is co-organized by Deutsches Haus at NYU and funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Free and open to the public. 
Register to receive Zoom and film-streaming links.




About the film:
Claiming Space – The Independent Art Exhibit Scene in the GDR 

(Die Behauptung des Raums – Wege unabhängiger Ausstellungskultur in der DDR, Germany, 2009, dirs. Claus Löser and Jakobine Motz, 100 min., English subtitles)
This documentary explores the interdisciplinary and intermedial artistic subculture that developed in major East German cities in the 1980s. These artists created alternative exhibition and performance spaces to bypass governmental control. Original film documents are juxtaposed with interviews with successful artists who were once part of this alternative arts scene, including Lutz Dammbeck, Michael Morgner, Fine Kwiatkowski, Thomas Ranft and Else Gabriel.


APRIL 14, 12:00 -1:30 p.m. (EDT) | VIRTUAL BOOK TALK


A discussion between Sara Blaylock and Seth Howes builds on the documentary and explores the findings of Blaylocks’s new book, Parallel Public: Experimental Art in Late East Germany (MIT Press, March 2022).


About the book:
Parallel Public is the first English-language work to focus on the experimental art of East Germany. The book draws on extensive materials, including interviews with artists, art historians and organizers; artist-made publications; official reports of the Union of Fine Artists; and Stasi surveillance records. As Blaylock traces the role that culture played in the GDR's rapid decline in the late-1980s, she brings to light the role of East German artists as dissenters and witnesses, citizens and agents, their work both a diagnosis of and antidote to the weakening state.
About the speakers:
Sara Blaylock is assistant professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Her research focuses on 1980’s East German experimental art, film and visual culture. Her teaching and research interests include cultural policy in state socialism, the art and visual culture of the Cold War and the cinemas of the Eastern Bloc. Parallel Public: Experimental Art in Late East Germany is her first book.
Seth Howes is associate professor in German at the University of Missouri. He is the author of Moving Images on the Margins: Experimental Film in Late Socialist East Germany (Camden House, 2019) and co-editor of Beyond No Future: Cultures of German Punk (Bloomsbury, 2016). He co-directed the DEFA Film Library’s 2021 Summer Film Institute on Authority & Alterity in East German Movies: Political Experiments, Rebel Youth and Civil Unrest. His current work examines the role and works of Peter Weiss during the Cold War. 

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