this issue contains
>> Conversation: Laura Owens
>> Interview: Markus Schinwald
>> Images of Children from the Deutsche Bank Collection
>> Childlike Strategies

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When an artist later picks up on the theme of the boarding school pupil, as the 1970-born Norbert Bisky did, it becomes clear to what extent the image of the child has changed in the decades that followed. As the curator Doris Krystof writes, "What began with Rousseau in the 18th century and came clearly to fore throughout the German Romantic period – the discovery of the child as an individual – develops into an inviolable right in the course of the 20th century." Her essay, The Heavenly Child – From Ascent to Fall… not only discusses the ramifications for the subject, which quickly became a "symbol for purity, genuineness, and an original state." Connected to this, however, was a rather limited view of real, unembellished individuality. "Criticism of the Romantic concept first began being voiced in the 60s and 70s of the 20th century." As a consequence, according to Krystof, "it died out rather quickly."

Charles Avery, Uncle Eugene's Funeral, aus der Serie:
The Life and Lineage of Nancy Haselwon, 1999
Deutsche Bank Collection

Other ideas took its place. The only thing that remained constant was the motif; its clear legibility, however, disappears in favor of the numerous strategies artists adopted individually. Thus, several childish types appear in the works of Georg Baselitz – in his scandalous painting Die große Nacht im Eimer(1962/63), for instance, which portrays a young boy after masturbating, or in the drawing Hundejunge. His pictorial world pits itself against established categories and false ideals: in the hero paintings of the 60s and 70s, Baselitz created "new men" that fill the canvas with their massive bodies: workers, shepherds, or rebels. And even when Marlene Dumas resorts to a model from a canonized century for her drawing Girl from a Dutch Painting (1991), what ensues is an autonomous child’s portrait.

Florian Merkel, both: Untitled, 1993
Deutsche Bank Collection

The child’s portrait becomes a location for self-discovery. Whoever questions the myth of childhood as a paradisiacal state reveals this to be an illusion, whether we’re looking at Eberhard Havekost, whose expressionless boys’ faces stand for "boredom," or Bisky, whose watercolors everyone’s doing pushups oscillate vaguely between athletic play and cruel drill. Charles Avery recounts being a child with similar ambiguity: in his group portrait Uncle Eugene’s Funeral, the smallest visitor to the cemetery is a stubborn little person being dragged along by his father. And aren’t the candy-colored, untitled playing scenes by Florian Merkel or Hirschvogel’s decoratively framed baby picture just a little too colorful to be true?

Hirschvogel, Untitled, 1992
Deutsche Bank Collection

Ultimately, the child image loses its innocence upon being banned from paradise. The Japanese artist Miwa Yanagi constructs elaborately photographed scenes from fairy tales and their clear categories of good and bad in which good girls can also be old hags and witches. Complex psychological layers take the place of simple patterns, making room for children’s portraits in which the subjects are by no means harmless creatures. Since the discovery of the subject, the artist’s unwavering eye has made the child image into a projection surface – offering a release for adult desires, longings, and fears.

Miwa Yanagi, Rapunzel, 2005, © Miwa Yanagi,
Courtesy Galerie Wohnmaschine, Berlin
Deutsche Bank Collection

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