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Lauren Graber, University of Michigan, Dept. of Art History

Gruppe SPUR: Art and Dissent in West Germany during  the Cold War, 1957-1967

 My doctoral dissertation "Gruppe SPUR, 1957-1965: Art and Dissent in West Germany during the Cold War" fills a major gap in the literature on modern and contemporary European art. Gruppe SPUR was the first revolutionary utopian artistic collective in post-World War II West Germany.  I assess how the collective redefined traditional conceptions of “art” and “politics” in an effort to transform social relations and challenge the presumed authoritarian tendencies within the West German state, church and society.  Therefore, questions on the role and impact art can have in society, as well as the political effect of art to enact transformational change are central to this analysis of Gruppe SPUR’s project and legacy. Amongst West German artists of the late 1950s, Gruppe SPUR created the most radical aesthetic-political program.  I analyze for the first time the development of Gruppe SPUR’s expanded notion of art, which enlisted an interplay between multiple mediums such as abstracted figural representation in painting, sculpture, drawing and lithography; the self-production of numerous magazines, manifestos and flyers; and the enactment of actions in everyday life.  Gruppe SPUR tested and enhanced the communicative potentialities of these multiple mediums of art to engage with different audiences, thereby forging possibilities for art to function as critical interventions in society and culture.  Despite the Gruppe SPUR’s vital contribution to radical avant-garde culture in West Germany, their political theories and artistic productions have been overlooked in many disciplines including art history, political science, history, German studies and cultural studies.  This dissertation will both reinsert Gruppe SPUR into discourses on postwar German and European art, culture and politics, and provide critical and visual analysis of the collective’s diverse range of politically charged artistic productions.