Georg Baselitz: ‘Am I supposed to be friendly?’

In 1958 Georg Baselitz, then a 20-year-old art student recently arrived in West Berlin from East Germany, attended a touring exhibition of contemporary American painting staged at his university. “Until then I had lived first under the Nazis, and then in the GDR,” he explains. “Modern art just did not occur so I knew almost nothing. Not about German expressionism, dadaism, surrealism or even cubism. And suddenly here was abstract expressionism. Paintings by Pollock, De Kooning, Guston, Still and many others, in the very buildings where I took classes every day. It was overwhelming. And not just for me. Even the professors had not seen this sort of work before.”

Baselitz recalls that the artist he most admired from the exhibition was Jackson Pollock, but the one he understood best was Willem de Kooning, “because he was European”. It was a distinction that would characterise his wider response

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