Time stands still in the old castle of Beeskow. But it’s not traces from the Middle Ages which are so well-preserved within in the castle walls. Instead, you’ll find no less than 23 000 paintings, prints, tapestries and sculptures created in the German Democratic Republic. In 2021, the Kunstarchiv Beeskow observed its 30th anniversary.
What kind of art are we talking about?
In the 40 years of the GDR, many artists contributed artworks to mass organizations, parties and state bodies. Consequently, there was art almost everywhere in the public sector. Sometimes, even minor institutions were endowed with works by great painters like Willi Sitte, Gerhard Heisig and Wolfgang Mattheuer.
But with the German reunification, most of these organizations ceased to exist. Public buildings were vacated or repurposed. And when the Berlin Wall began to tumble, Socialist realism, the predominant style, was considered obsolete.
So, what was to become of these artworks when the GDR took its last breaths? Some art enthusiasts might have picked a few select ones for their private collection. Other works might have been subjected to the wrath of the public. And the majority of the artworks would have gone to waste. But they didn’t.
Why are these works still there – and ready to be rediscovered?
Most of the credit belongs to Herbert Schirmer. From April to October 1990, Schirmer served as the GDR’s (last) Minister of Culture. In this function, he made it his mission to collect, register and secure all the artworks from the public sector. And even after the end of his term, he persevered. In 1991, he initiated the founding of the Kunstarchiv Beeskow – which he would lead till 1999.
Today, many fans of the fine arts are happy about his accomplishment. More and more galleries and museums are curating the unique works created by GDR artists, drawing considerable interest. Especially young people born long after 1989 are intrigued – and the market for Eastern German art keeps growing.