Norbert Bisky | Norbert Bisky: Paintings
Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa, Israel | 24.1.–20.6.2009
Norbert Bisky - a prominent member of the new German Expressionist wave - was born in Leipzig in 1970, and was raised on the socialist values of East Germany. He began his artistic career following the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a student of Georg Baselitz. His paintings reflect the cultural conflict stemming from the unification of the two Germanies, and the rapid transition from a communist regime to a capitalist consumer culture. Bisky's works respond with no little cynicism to optimistic messages and promises for a better world - and, of course, to the inevitable disillusionment they entail. 

Bisky's early body of works includes the 2005 work Fairy Lights, which is featured in this exhibition. These works were influenced by social realist propaganda images and by the aesthetics of East German youth movements. At the time, they provoked controversy due to their combination of Aryan and homoerotic imagery, and to their portrayal of golden-haired, muscular boys against a bright, blue-skyed German landscape. These paintings attempted to expose the similarity between the hollow promise of happiness that characterized East German propaganda and the fake illusions marketed by capitalist, democratic society. 

In his more recent series, such as those featured in this exhibition, Bisky abandoned these bright youth movement scenes in favor of a darker, more surreal universe. In these paintings, it is already clear that the promised paradise is inherently faulty, and that the social utopia it embodies is in the process of collapsing. The drugged and drunken youths in these works are the distressed victims of this utopia. They appear as cloned figures that are indistinguishable from one another, and inhabit a cracked, torn-apart world that oozes strange liquids. The spectacular visions of violence featured in these works involve sadistic acts, brutal cannibalism, slaughter, executions, amputations and bodily excretions - an orgy of dark, chaotic and violent forces, as well as battlefields in which everyone has turned against each other. This effect is achieved by means of a seductive and polished form of beauty, dramatic lighting and a colorful theatricality. The palette of these works underscores the artificiality of the narrative, to the point that it becomes almost impossible to discern the horrors they depict. The postmodern spirit is evident in these paintings in terms of the countless quotations from the history of art, alongside images influenced by the worlds of advertising, cinema and fashion. To these one must also add Bisky's attraction to Baroque ecstasy, especially in terms of his charged relationship to the body as a site both sacred and profane, noble and abject. It seems that this overwhelming flood of stimuli addresses the process of desensitization characteristic of our time; it is the source of the critical stance expressed in Bisky's works, and of their relevancy to the contemporary discourse and to the manner in which images of violence are treated in the current exhibition cluster.

Born in Leipzig, East Germany, 1970; lives and works in Berlin