Left: Neo Rauch, "Diktat," 2004. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection. Right: David Schnell, "Park" (detail), 2003. Tempera on canvas. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection.

The McNay Art Museum’s coming exhibit “Made in Germany: Contemporary Art from the Rubell Family Collection” evokes San Antonio’s rich German heritage with an entirely modern collection of art from the last 35 years. This contrast between past and present is as intentionally dissonant as the work itself, the creation of artists who variously engage with the controversies of Germany’s past and seek to provoke their audience in the present.

The exhibit, arranged by the McNay’s Chief Curator René Paul Barilleaux, borrows its works from the acclaimed Rubell Family Collection, whose extensive holdings of German art have never before been shown.

“This is a story through a particular lens,” Barilleaux said; three decades of history represented by a private collection.

 René Paul Barilleaux is Chief Curator/Curator of Art after 1945 at the McNay Art Museum. Courtesy photo.
René Paul Barilleaux is chief curator/curator of art after 1945 at the McNay Art Museum. Courtesy photo.

Barilleaux chose to focus on German art due to the country’s significant role in San Antonio history. He hopes the exhibit will “form a bridge from the 19th century into the postwar period.”

The histories of Germany and Texas coincide around 1842, when Texas was still its own country. Then, as now, Texas offered an abundance of land and opportunity. A group of German noblemen, convinced of the economic advantages of German emigration to Texas, founded the Adelsverein, otherwise known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas.

Laudatory publications praising the fertile soil and civil liberties of Texas soon began to make their mark in Germany. Land was purchased, and in 1844 the first immigrants arrived and settled the area they called New Braunfels.

Fredericksburg followed in 1846, a year after Texas joined the United States. By the time the Adelsverein ended in 1853, it had brought more than 7,000 Germans to Texas – one-third the population of Bexar County.

History is of central concern to the artists featured in “Made in Germany.”

“So much of the art from the postwar period is about a cultural schism with what came before, during, and after World War II,” Barilleaux said. “There is a wide gap that occurs in the visual arts, which are heavily influenced by a loss of identity, and a consciousness of the present moment.”

The exhibition also represents a return to the McNay Collection’s own roots in European art. After various temporary exhibitions focusing on American art, Barilleaux was particularly interested in returning to and perpetuating the museum’s connection with European works.

It has been a “tremendous honor” to collaborate with the McNay, said Juan Roselione-Valadez, director of the Rubell Family Collection. The exhibit is the “first in-depth presentation” of contemporary German art in the United States, he said.

Founded in 1994 by husband and wife Don and Mera Rubell, the Rubell Collection has grown to become one of the largest private holdings in the world to focus on contemporary American and German art. The Rubells are on the front line of the art world, cultivating personal associations with living artists, both established and emerging. They seek to make their assortment of more than 6,000 works available to the public through exhibitions such as the McNay’s.

“Made in Germany” will feature the paintings, sculptures, and photographs of a variety of artists, arranged according to their emergence in the art world. Barilleaux wants to emphasize both intellectual and cultural movements, as well as the dynamic relationships between teachers and students, visually tracing chains of influence.

Featured artists include the controversial Anselm Kiefer; Gerhard Richter, known for both his abstract and his photorealist paintings; the sculptor Katharina Fritsch, whose lurid blue rooster long loomed over London’s Trafalgar Square; the influential photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher; the very conceptual Thomas Demand; and the up-and-coming painters Kerstin Brätsch and David Ostrowski.

The exhibit will be at the McNay from Feb. 10 through April 24. Special events surrounding the exhibition will include a conversation between Barilleaux and the Rubells, a contemporary German film series, and more.

*Top image: Left: Neo Rauch, “Diktat,” 2004. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection. Right: David Schnell, “Park” (detail), 2003. Tempera on canvas. Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection.

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Gretchen Greer is a freelance writer and photographer, born and raised in San Antonio. She has lived in France and England, and currently divides her time between Texas, London and Burgundy. You can find...