Artists' Publications from the GDR
Dresden , Germany
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Provenance and cultural activities
Artist books became worldwide starting the end of the 1960s a medium of communication between graphic artists, writers, photography artists and artists working with new media. Starting in 1982 artists’ books were also started being produced in the GDR. A new generation of artists born during the 1950s were not interested in the official cultural politics of the regime, and thus engaged in alternative ways of creating and communicating of their artistic productions. Such artists’ books proved to be an alternative for cultural exchange, which allowed them to avoid censorship. The prosecution and expulsion of numerous artists involved in the production of artists’ books in the GDR, such as the musician Lothar Fiedler, is a testimony of the subversive nature of this means of art production and its controversial significance for the regime.
Although artists’ books were initially circulated within closed groups, in private apartments and private galleries or in churches, from 1986 onwards they reached out to the public space. Such an opportunity came about when the Zentrale Fachbibliothek (Central Library), which since 1983 was functioning as the Central GDR Library for Music and Arts (Zentrale Fachbibliothek Zentrale Fachbibliothek der DDR für Kunst und Musik), started developing a collection of original graphic art books, including GDR artists’ books.
This collection of GDR artists’ books was acquired by the library in 1986. This was the result of the initiative of numerous artists who sought to reach into the public space and thus they approached the Library. For the Central Library for Arts and Music, the artistic value of these graphic arts was of interest as it already had a collection of original graphic books.
Artists soon explored this opportunity to reach into the public space and experiment with these tools in order to circulate dissenting ideas as well. Given the censorship and strict control over media production and printed material, artistic production proved an alternative means of communication between artists, writers, photographers, and painters. The contribution of international artists and writers to GDR artists’ books, including Vaclav Havel, Hertha Müller and Mircea Dinescu, should be noted. As such, authors integrated their texts into various art forms. Independent book production which questioned and distanced itself from state-mandated realism and optimism became then, under such circumstances, political. This collection of GDR artists’ books eventually drew the attention of the Stasi. Consequently, they were submitted to strict controls concerning user rights, by allowing access only for “scientific purposes”. This prevented them from reaching a wider audience, as initially intended by the artists.
Among the first publications offered by their authors to the Library was the publication UND (founded by the musician Lothar Fiedler), which documented the independent arts scene in Dresden, followed by ENTWERTER/ODER, which was produced in Berlin by the cartographer Uwe Warnke since 1982 with contributions from Saxon artists, and ANSCHLAG from Leipzig, distinguished by its particularly critical tone.
Following the regime change, some continued to be published, such as ENTWERTER/ODER in Berlin. After 1990, the Library continued its acquisition policy and engaged in the additional purchasing of original graphic art books. It also extended its collection to include foreign books, such as original French and Russian pieces.
With financial support provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) between 1997 and 2000, a project to digitize the artist's books was carried out. This aimed at facilitating wider access to the publications and also to ensure their further preservation and conservation.
Description of content
Currently, the Saxon Library has a collection of almost 6000 artistic pieces and 177 artists’ books from the GDR. The collection is part of the wider graphics collection acquired by the library including almost 1300 artists’ books and graphic arts.
Among the first artists’ books acquired by the Library was also the publication USW, which captured the production of the alternative art scene in Dresden. This was offered to the library by publisher Micha Brendel in 1986. This was soon after followed by USF, issued by Thomas Haufe, also from Dresden, and by ENTWERTER/ODER from Berlin in 1987. The same year further publications were offered to the library such as DER HASE (from Chemnitz, then Karl-Marx Stadt), MIKADO and ANSCHLAG (Leipzig), SCHADEN (Berlin), and ZWEITE PERSON (Leipzig).
Among the artist contributing to these publications, one should note Cornelia Schleime and Sascha Anderson in Poe Sie All Bum (1982), Schulze Gundula (A drei, 1983), Via Lewandowsky (USW, 1987), Christoph Tannert (ANSCHLAG, 1986), Jan Faktor (Ariadnefabrik, 1986). Further international contributions came from Vaclav Havel (ANSCHLAG, 1987), Mircea Dinescu (ANSCHLAG, 1987), among others. The artists’ books experimented with various medium and techniques, from photography to drawing, silkscreen printing, collages, and text. The publications included topics such as poetry, literature, film, cinema, avant-garde art, sexuality, World War II, environmental issues, decay, the Czech movement Charta 77, bureaucracy, civil movements, among many others.
Following regime change, the Saxon library continued acquiring GDR publications. Some of the publications have been complemented or entire printings of some publications acquired, such as the collection UND of the artist Lothar Fiedler, expelled from the GDR in 1985.
For conservation reasons the collection has been digitalised and can be accessed online for research, while the originals can be studied in the reading room of the library.
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Böthig, Peter. 1990. 'UND, UNDSOWEITER, UNDSOFORT... Künstlerbücher und Zeitschriften im Eigenverlag’, in: Gillen, Eckhart, Haarmann, Rainer (Eds.). Kunst in der DDR, 105-111, Kiepenheuer& Witsch.
Gillen, Eckhart, Haarmann, Rainer, (Eds.). 1990. Kunst in der DDR, Kiepenheuer& Witsch.
Grundmann, Uta, Klaus Michael, and Susanna Seufert, (Eds.). 2002. Revolution im geschlossenen Raum. Die andere Kultur in Leipzig 1970-1990, Leipzig: Verlag Faber&Faber.Muschter, Gabriele, Thomas, Rüdiger, (Eds.). 1992. Jenseits der Staatskultur. Traditionen autonomer Kunst in der DDR, München, Wien: Karl Hanser Verlag.
Author(s) of this page
- Demeter, Laura
Annika-Valeska, Walzel, interview by Demeter, Laura, January 18, 2018. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection