Youth

The disputes between the young adults of the late 1960s, known is Germany as the ‘68ers’, and their parental generation, which had experienced or actively participated in National Socialism, led, among other things, to a political examination of the topic of didactics. The establishment of the nGbK also saw the formation of a working group on the subject of Kunst und Erziehung, which propagated not just that young people and children had a right to be treated according to their own interests, but also investigated possible education subject matter and forms of teaching. In her text Anmerkung zu dem Problem ästhetischer Erziehung Wendula Dahle addressed the notion of an education that could secure children against existing social conditions and make them independent, “[…] so that schoolchildren can be motivated to change these conditions?”1 Dahle saw creativity as a form of self-empowerment.

In response to a planned school reform in Berlin that would reduce the amount of artistic subjects on the curriculum, the working group Kunst und Erziehung organised a first protest event on 17 November 1971, during which arguments in favour of the importance of aesthetic education were developed, in solidarity with her representatives of the Deutscher Werkbund Berlin, the Berufsverband bildender Künstler and the Bund Deutscher Kunsterzieher. The aims and motives of cognitive development for young people were usually divided between the social interests of the adults and children’s own needs in the debate about didactics. The working group, in a self-critical motion, put forward this formulation: “We should not indulge ourselves in illusions of martyrdom: within the confines of system-conforming indoctrination, the evolvement of creativity, formal-aesthetic ability, problem-solving and critical faculties are important forces for overall social progress, whose development must also be in the interests of those economic powers which still always prefer to remain in the background.”2

The lives of children, transmitted through art, first became the focus of an exhibition with Die gesellschaftliche Wirklichkeit der Kinder in der Bildenden Kunst in 1980. The exhibition presented children’s depictions and portraits from four centuries. In addition to Dutch genre painting and realist painting from the 19th century, the show also included children’s portraits of the successors-in-line to the thrones of European monarchies, whose education, due to their social status, was practically crucial to the state. The exhibition’s starting point was the resolution adopted by the UN in 1976 on the international year of the child, which is reprinted in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. The catalogue once again contains the demand to take measures against child poverty, misery and suffering. The exhibition-makers pursued the goal of enlightenment regarding the plight of children, because “[…] the discrepancy between economic wealth in our country and the conscious disadvantaging of children [has] not been reduced.”3 In a later edition of the catalogue, the preface mentions that non-European journalists and media workers criticised that the exhibition was “set up in a middle-class intellectual and gourmet manner”4 that did not reflect the living conditions of children. Accordingly, the editor of the catalogue, Jürgen Hoffmann, added to the second edition texts on the subject of housing and alcoholism, again, however, from a purely European perspective.

When the first post-war generation became teenagers, they created an awareness of how different phases of a person’s life affect his or her needs and desires. The student generation of the “68ers” was at the forefront of movements that formulated an interest in social cohesion deviating from that of the political classes. In order to address the notion that only adults made a contribution to society, resistance also had to be offered in the nGbK, as part of the exhibition, to the “[…] removal of history from our lives and an education marked by and flood of aggressive everyday images and information […]”5.

In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Rosa für Jungs und Hellblau für Mädchen, Rainer Hörmann addresses the topic of the historical value of childhood in his article Kindheit als Phänomen, as discussed by the French historian Philippe Ariès. The exhibition, created in conjunction with this discourse in 1999, in particular reflects the gender roles of boys and girls and their integrity with regard to sexuality.

Youth as an artistic practice was addressed by Martin Kippenberger, who prohibited himself from painting for his exhibition Lieber Maler, male mir … in the nGbK in 1981. He commissioned a panorama painter, whose forename Werner he also borrowed for signing the works. In the accompanying catalogue Durch Pubertät zum Erfolg he mixes the private with the public and fiction with fact through formats such as newspaper clippings, poems and aphorisms. With his reputation as a “professional young person”, he established a non-conforming attitude and rule-breaking as an artistic practice. In a newspaper report reprinted in the catalogue, Matthias Matussek writes about Kippenberger’s solo night in Café Einstein entitled mit Bier ins Bett. Kippenberg clearly liked the idea of transforming the parental order of “going to bed with no supper” into the promise of relaxation in mit Bier ins Bett. The journalist’s report also released him from the duty to actually do anything himself. With “Kippenberger”, Kippenberger created a character which many people interpreted as an uncouth self-staging and whose contrariness was a provocation. The reactions that he triggered said a lot more about the audience than was immediately apparent. For Kippenberger, youth is a motif of independence from conformity and the associated aggression, but also a motif of vulnerability. Rudolf Augstein is quoted in a sentence on the book cover “Kippi is not even able to make himself a sandwich!”

Interest in the third stage of life also only received attention in the nGbK when the baby-boomer generation entered the established class itself and passed 68 for the second time. Awareness of the aggregate states of life and its third phase arrived late in comparison to the subject of youth, with the exhibition Ein Leben lang, which took place in 2008 and devoted itself to the “Art of Ageing”.

Sara Hillnhütter

Translation: Don Mac Coitir


  1. Vorwort, AG, Die Gesellschaftliche Wirklichkeit der Kinder in der Bildenden Kunst, NGBK und Staatliche Kunsthalle, Elefanten Press, S. 8. 

  2. Ästhetische Erziehung, Dokumente und Argumente, Technokratische Schulreform: Bildung ohne Kunst, Musik und Literatur?, Archivmaterial, S. 11. 

  3. Ästhetische Erziehung, Dokumente und Argumente, Technokratische Schulreform: Bildung ohne Kunst, Musik und Literatur?, Archivmaterial, S. 2. 

  4. Vorwort, in: Die Gesellschaftliche Wirklichkeit der Kinder in der Bildenden Kunst, NGBK und Staatliche Kunsthalle, Elefanten Press, Berlin 1980, S. 8. 

  5. Ebd.  

  6. Kippenberger: Durch Pubertät zum Erfolg, NGBK, Berlin 1981.