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Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter are undoubtedly three of the most important European contemporary painters. Working in Germany after World War II—a historical moment characterized by philosopher Theodor Adorno as marking the death of poetry after the atrocities of Auschwitz—these artists proposed a vigorous reconsideration of the possibilities of pictorial practice. Through dynamically distinctive approaches, they each question the relevance of history painting, examine the relationship between painting and photography, and pursue experimentation to redefine the technical potential of painting. Kiefer, Polke, and Richter have restored a profound significance to the act of painting as a means for individual artists to unearth and transform the collective consciousness.
By tackling the subjects of history and mythology, Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) creates works of imposing fragility that are extraordinary testimonies to the possibilities of lyricism in a European landscape scarred by genocide and war. Sigmar Polke (born 1941) re-actualizes the experimental impulse—the backbone of artistic practice in the early modern period—revisiting and reinventing the explorations of Dadaists and Surrealists like Francis Picabia (French, 1879–1953) and Max Ernst (German, 1891–1976). Gerhard Richter (born 1932), who left East Germany in 1961 for a career in the West, systematically explores painting’s relevance in a cultural landscape seemingly dominated by products of popular culture and the photographic image.