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Monday, March 21, 2022
09:44 pm CET
By Ronny Waburek
Monday, March 21, 2022, 09:44 pm CET
By Ronny Waburek





In Portrait

Neo Rauch and the Post-Socialist Surrealism

In Portrait

Neo Rauch and the Post-Socialist Surrealism

Neo Rauch

Neo Rauch

Neo Rauch


Neo Rauch has broken new ground with his work as an artist. Born and still living in Leipzig, he developed a new form of surrealism from the socialist realism of his homeland. With this, he caused a sensation first in German exhibitions and from the late 90s also in important international exhibitions. Today he is represented by Galerie Eigen + Art in Leipzig and David Zwirner in New York.


The scenery seems like in the theater - only more unreal, mysterious, and impenetrable. Indeed, Neo Rauch's paintings create a peculiar mood. One looks for a precise meaning in his pictures in vain, although the viewer often recognizes many details in the image. The images of Neo Rauch let one think of comics, horror movies, or advertising posters in their staginess.

Dreamlike Reality

As in a dream, the perspectives seem shifted, the proportions do not fit. And yet his dream images seem to follow an inexplicable inner logic. The personnel of his pictures appears to come from past times. And yet the historical references are only vague.

Often the figures in the pictures are engaged in activities that have nothing to do with each other. This is often interpreted as a symbol for the changes in society, in which traditional roles are increasingly called into question. But is this interpretation correct? Neo Rauch, a Salvador Dali of the present. In short: everything seems like a riddle.

Birth and Tragedy

Neo Rauch's life began with a tragedy. He was born in Leipzig on April 18, 1960, before the Wall was built. His parents died in a railroad accident just four weeks after his birth. Neo Rauch grew up with his maternal grandparents in Aschersleben, far from Leipzig, deep in the provinces.

Parental Imprint Without Parents

Surprisingly, although he never knew his parents, his interests took a similar artistic direction early on: his father, Hanno Rauch, born in 1939 in Gera, had studied at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, and his mother had studied book design. After graduating from high school, Rauch, like his father, also studied at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig. His subject of study: painting.

Influenced by Arno Rink and Bernhard Heisig

During his studies, he was significantly influenced by Arno Rink (from 1981 to 1986) and - as a master student - by Bernhard Heisig (from 1986 to 1990). Heisig specialized in large, historical-political, and social panoramas in the tradition of Max Beckmann and Oskar Kokoschka. The strength of the impulses Rauch received from his mentors should not be underestimated: Rink's painting is characterized by surrealism and later founded the New Leipzig School, which today includes Neo Rauch.
From Student to Professor

Rauch remained attached to the academic environment. Later - from 1993 to 1998 - Rauch worked as an assistant to Arno Rink at the Leipzig Academy. Finally, he worked there as a university lecturer (from 2005 to 2019) and an honorary professor (from 2009 to 2014).

Leipzig Again and Again

And something else is striking: Leipzig was the center of gravity that organized his biographical and artistic universe. Today Rauch, married to the painter Rosa Loy, lives in Markkleeberg near Leipzig; he has moved his workshop to the former Leipzig cotton mill.

The Breakthrough: An art Critic as a Helper

Rauch only became known after the collapse of the GDR in 1989. In 1991, he had the opportunity to show his paintings in two solo exhibitions: in Leipzig's Galerie am Thomaskirchhof and in Frankfurt's Galerie Schwind. Finally, in 1993, an exhibition was realized in the Dresdner Bank AG rooms in Frankfurt. Rauch's fame grew - even beyond the borders of Germany. An article in the New York Times by the US art critic Roberta Smith, married to art critic Jerry Saltz, opened many a door for him in the USA.

Berlin, Leipzig and New York

Today Rauch is represented by Galerie Eigen + Art, headed by Gerd Harry Lybkes, in Leipzig and Berlin, and by the internationally renowned New York gallery David Zwirner. He has turned away from the original tradition of Socialist Realism, as many East German painters cultivated it even in the early days of the GDR. In the GDR, Leipzig was considered a city where artists were freer than usual. Artists there often did not shy away from unpleasant subjects either.

Neo Rauch and Wolfgang Ullrich: An Art Critic as an Enemy

Rauch had a special relationship with the art critic Wolfgang Ullrich. It all started with an article by Ullrich in the German weekly Die Zeit, which appeared in May 2019. Its title: "Auf der dunklen Scholle." His thesis: while in the past it was more left-wing artists who demanded greater autonomy for art, today it is increasingly right-wing and conservative artists. Ullrich also mentioned Rauch. He, in turn, felt violated and painted a picture entitled "Der Anbräuner," a defamatory caricature of Ullrich defecating on a paintbrush. Unlike many of Rauch's other paintings, whose meaning is difficult to decipher, in some cases impossible, "Der Anbräuner" serves only as a gesture, a slap in the face. The German public, interested in art, followed the exchange of blows, which found its continuation in the fact that Ulbricht, in turn, wrote a book about the picture - with the title "Becoming an Enemy Image." It would be difficult for Rauch to react to this again with an invective.