HomePosition for a post-doc in the project “To Each His Own Reality: The notion of the real in the fine arts of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989”

HomePosition for a post-doc in the project “To Each His Own Reality: The notion of the real in the fine arts of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989”

Position for a post-doc in the project “To Each His Own Reality: The notion of the real in the fine arts of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989”

Poste de post-doctorant au sein du projet de recherche « À chacun son réel. La notion de réel dans les arts plastiques en France, RFA, RDA, Pologne des années 1960 à la fin des années 1980 »

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Published on Thursday, September 19, 2013 by Élodie Faath


The project entitled To Each His Own Reality: The notion of the real in the fine arts of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989 led by Mathilde Arnoux (funded by the ERC Starting Grant Programme) at the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte (German Centre for Art History) in Paris, which is part of the Max Weber Foundation, is recruiting one full-time position for a specialist in aesthetics/art theory.




The project entitled To Each His Own Reality: The notion of the real in the fine arts of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989 led by Mathilde Arnoux (funded by the ERC Starting Grant Programme) at the Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte (German Centre for Art History) in Paris, which is part of the Max Weber Foundation, is recruiting one full-time position for a specialist in aesthetics/art theory.


Starting with an analysis of the notion of the real in a variety of forms that use the concept (e.g. performance art, integrating objects in art, figuration, etc.) and from these multiple interpretations in France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland, the project (see description below) aims to develop an understanding of sharing, exchanges as well as misunderstandings and common points on both sides of the Iron Curtain. By focusing on a single concept, the project aims to analyse the possible relationship between separate formal practices, to question the relevance of certain similarities between neighbouring art practices and to investigate why this notion was significant between 1960 and 1989. With this in mind, it will be important to analyse the ways in which the artistic, cultural, theoretical, political and ideological issues of the day fit together.


  • The postdoctoral researcher will be hired full-time.
  • The position is for a fixed duration of 2 years (CDD)
  • The position will be subject to a 6-month probationary period.
  • Candidates must have submitted their thesis and hold a PhD.
  • It will be particularly helpful if the candidate speaks French and one of the two languages of the project (Polish or German) as this would contribute to ensuring a rigorous analysis of the dialogue between the four countries and to facilitate communication within the team.

Profile requirements

The topic of the candidate’s postdoctoral research is required to correspond to the goals of the project, which are to gain an appreciation of the notion of the real’s diverse expressions in the fine arts in France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland. With a view to drawing clear distinctions, the postdoctoral researcher will be required to contribute to shared reflection on what art conjures in relation to the notion of the real. He or she will need to accompany research in order to gain an understanding of whether artistic approaches translate, interpret and/or refer to theoretical arguments and to what degree they distance themselves from them. The candidate must be familiar with art history and its methodologies and have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of aesthetics in order to appreciate the tradition to which the art practices studied belong, or the conventions they break with. Given the period studied, during which certain artists broke with the aesthetic current of the times and developed a particular interest in sociological, political and ethical issues, it will be important for the candidate to express an interest in political philosophers and the ethical currents that may have inspired the artists of the period.


  • Assistance in the creation of an international network of researchers on the notion of the real in the fine arts of France, the FRG, the GDR and Poland
  • Active participation in debates and events organised as part of the project
  • Assistance in preparing workshops on the notion of the real in the fine arts of France, the FRG, the GDR and Poland (2014-2015)
  • Selection of texts on the notion of the real in the fine arts of France, the FRG, the GDR and Poland (publications by philosophers and artists)
  • Digitization and online publication of texts on the SharePoint website, and recording of documents in the project’s database
  • Participation in bibliographic research missions
  • Providing regular research reports
  • Translation of texts
  • Cooperation in the project’s publishing activities, editorial follow-up for publications
  • Website
  • Database, correction and monitoring of data

Paid expenses

Travel and accommodation expenses for participating in each workshop will be covered by the project.


The application must include

  • a description of a research project specifying the research year,
  • an estimation of the number of remaining years (max. 4 pages),
  • a cover letter in which the candidate explains how this project will enrich and supplement his/her own research,
  • a CV (max. 4 pages)
  • and two letters of recommendation.

Applications must be sent by email to marnoux@dt-forum.org 

no later than 22 November 2013.

Short-listed applicants will be invited to an interview to be held in December 2013 at the Centre Allemand d'Histoire de l'Art (German Centre for Art History) in Paris.

Applications from handicapped candidates will be given the same attention as other applications. The Max Weber Foundation supports equality between men and women.

Selection committee

  • Mathilde Arnoux (Directrice de recherche, PI du projet),
  • Andreas Beyer (Directeur du Centre allemand d'histoire de l'art),
  • Juliane Braasch (Administratrice du Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art),
  • Julia Drost (Directrice de recherche, représentante de la parité),
  • Markus Rath (Chargé de recherche, représentant du personnel),
  • Ursula Wagner (Responsable du secrétariat, représentant du personnel).

Project Proposal

The notion of the real is used in a recurrent manner throughout art history concerning the period since the 1960s. It is applied to a variety of artistic practices including the neo-avant-garde and the return to the figurative. It surfaces whenever installations and performances attempt to abolish borders between the art and life. It appears within the descriptive framework of certain types of conceptual art and photography. This notion is recalled in the titles of published works by Peter Sager, Neue Formen des Realismus – Kunst zwischen Illusion und Wirklichkeit (New Forms of Realism – Art Between Illusion and Reality), Cologne, 1973, Christopher Carrell et al., ed., Polish Realities: New Art from Poland, Glasgow, 1988, and Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, Cambridge, Mass, 1996. It also emerges in the titles of chapters written by Michael Archer, Art Since 1960, London, 1997, "The Real and its Objects", Catherine Millet, L’art contemporain en France (Contemporary Art in France), Paris, 2005, sections titled "L’art adhère au reel" (Art Adheres to the Real) and "Un retour dans la réalité des choses" (A Return to the Reality of Things), and Klaus Honnef, Kunst der Gegenwart (Contemporary Art), the chapter "Die Inszenierung des Wirklichen oder die Macht der Fotografie" (Putting the Real in Place, or the Power of Photography), Cologne, 1988. These are just a few examples in which the word appears, without taking into account all the references that mention this connection between art and the real. Considering the efforts by art historians to classify art styles by movements, trends or groups, nothing is more surprising than to find such different art practices labelled with the same term on both the western and eastern sides of the Iron Curtain. The articulation of different art practices around a common notion is characteristic of the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union each invested fundamental notions like liberty, economics, and equality with different symbolic values in order to assert their own model of society. The real was among these fundamental notions that were included within the particular positions of each of the superpowers and their satellite states and allies. The notion of the real, applied to economic, political, and artistic fields both East and West took on a variety of inflections, despite the Soviet bloc’s attempts to establish coherence through its doctrine of social realism.

Exploring the notion of the real in the European fine arts contributes to reflection on the formation of a European cultural identity and highlights the important role played by the Cold War years in its definition. The assertion that the destinies of France, the FRG, the GDR and Poland during the 20th century were closely linked by friendships, divisions, oppositions, destructions, and shared experiences of extermination seems particularly justified when examining the issues involved. By looking into the period extending from the 1960s through the end of the 1980s, we focus on the Cold War after the completion of de-Stalinization.

The notion of the real, with its polymorphic aspect, has yet to be examined in full within the field of fine arts from 1960 until the end of the 1980s. Above all, there has been no research into the links between the notions of the real, both east and west of the Iron Curtain, that takes into account the ideological context. While research on artistic exchanges within Western countries, most notably between France and Germany, and within Eastern countries, has increased significantly in the past ten years, research on exchanges between countries on either side of the Iron Curtain is just beginning. It is important to pay particular attention to these questions while taking into account the Cold War’s ideological stakes. Competition between the two superpowers during the period resulted in the investiture of ideological ambitions into all segments of society. Within this context, artists took positions in more or less obvious ways. They were eventually labelled and their contemporary art works attributed a function within this global competition for the ideal social model, particularly as the political cultures of each of the blocks often used art as an ambassador of their social models.

Despite the classification system imposed by the Cold War, it is striking to notice how the notion of reality took on such a prominent role in the fine arts. This phenomenon was shared by movements classified as either conventional or antinomic from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. The polymorphous notion of the real created a large variety of forms of expression that sometimes overlapped. This notion can be read from a temporal point of view (reality as current affairs, as the present) or from a material point of view (reality as an all-encompassing world, that of concrete objects) corresponding to the ambiguity of the notion itself. The notion of the real, as we perceive it, takes on different meanings depending on art practices, the artists themselves and the contexts. Even so, it emerged as a common preoccupation among very different types of production within the same time period as if to assert the accepted positions of art and artists to the outside world.

The notion of the real does not necessarily reflect those art practices traditionally considered as realist, whether it be Verismo sculptures from the Roman Republic, 17th century Dutch painting, the realism of Courbet and his followers or the inter-world-war return to order. This notion appears in the names of movements such as New Realism, Capitalist Realism, Socialist Realism and Photographic Realism. It is vested with the return to the figurative, but remained essential to the development of performance art and environmental art, and appears in the introduction of objects in Fluxus and neo-Dada art. Since this notion of the real does not seem to fit within practices normally bound to art history and is applied in different manners depending on contexts, what, then, does this notion, so common in the art of the time, refer to? Does it adhere to or denounce a view of the established system? Does it aim to be as objective as possible through mimetic concerns (photography)? Is it implicated in the practice of integrating everyday objects into artworks themselves? Does it contribute to the inclusion of art in everyday life through direct intervention? Does it challenge art to leave its ivory tower and discover new domains?

We need to look back at the number of givens, based on purely formal links that led to the levelling of aspirations implicated in art and by artists. Thus we can take a closer look at the role that the notion of the real plays in art practices that introduced objects from the real world by investigating New Realism, Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Wladyslaw Hasior, Wlodimierz Borowski in Poland and works by the Türenausstellung organised in Dresden in 1979. In order to look beyond conventional interpretations, largely defined by the political context of the time, we must pay particular attention to what introducing real world objects as art material implies. Far from being a mere ode to capitalism, these practices question the abundance of things through the formation of contemporary archaeology. They question the meaning of everyday life by preserving contemporary objects as relics from the past; how can the real act as a memory bank?

The flourishing of performance art during this period went through many variations and yet remained consistent in its goal of bridging art and life. It aimed to determine what it was that united art and the real. However, context changes everything, and the goals were not always the same. They depended on whether art was linked to life under a capitalist or communist system, within a free or closed society. Performances by Gerhard Richter or Konrad Lueg that poked fun at Socialist as well as Capitalist Realism, Joseph Beuys and his political position, Robert Filliou looking for the equivalent of life, Ewa Partum raising questions of gender, the Dresden Autoperforationsartisten group, and Wojciech Krukowski’s street performances all raised questions on the position of the artist in relation to the surrounding world.

Photography, with its direct association with depicting reality, also raises questions pertinent to this project. It is particularly interesting to look into the obscured idea of equivalence between the real and the photographic image and to question the impact of the artistic act on the way reality is captured. What does the search for objectivity by the Düsseldorf artists and the GDR’s Ulrich Wüst’s neutral points of view consist of? These are questions that implicate subjectivity within the attempt to capture the original object.

With figurative work, it is not the artist’s mimetic encapsulations of everyday life that connect art with the notion of the real. Instead, it is the real that intervenes in reflecting on a world which the work aims to address, as it is not about representing the world, but thinking about the world through the art. The notion of the real is vital as it represents the elusive. Art is a way of taking a stance in the world. How does the return to the real world as an iconographic reservoir, such as in the work Jörg Immendorf and Anselm Kiefer, allow for questioning the role of the artist in society? What are the Figuration Narrative artists addressing in their rejection of everyday reality? All very different art practices raised fundamental questions regarding the notion of the real.

By establishing links between art produced on both sides of the Iron Curtain, the project will strive to re-examine the somewhat Manichean guides of interpretation that we’ve inherited. The goal is not to get rid of them, but to enrich them with essential nuances that break with the split between two opposing groups. To date, the political and ideological context and its repercussions on art produced during the Cold War has yet to be researched in full. By questioning the way in which the notion of the real was treated in France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland, we are seeking to highlight the different perspectives that others have held with regard to this notion. The emergence of unique traits – the recognition of the existence of art practices deserving attention beyond the Iron Curtain – will answer a need to recognize the art scenes of countries previously behind the Iron Curtain, and long ignored by 20th century art history publications.

The analysis of the notion of the real allows for views beyond the conventional oppositions between art forms inherited from Dada versus figurative art. It is a common thread that weaves itself through the writing of artists, critics and art historians of the time. The notion of the real’s varied meanings sometimes overlap each other in order to play on their ambiguity, while adhering to a historical tradition that stems from art history’s origins in questioning mimesis and objectivity, the artist’s freedom of subject and the relationship of the artist to the surrounding world. The absolute real, though elusive, can be vested by the artist depending on what he or she believes it conjures up. It therefore fills a conceptual void that betrays the importance held by this notion within the field of fine arts during this period. Thus the notion of the real merits particular attention as it is vital to the understanding of works of art and the mission that they were loaded with by their commentator. The real, the notion upon which rested the ambitions of the two Cold War superpowers, consisted of a framework for Europe at a time when cultural distinction was proclaimed, an assertion of uniqueness that was not systematically lumped together with the ambitions of the USSR and the United States. In this way this notion allows us to go beyond conventional classifications and do away with the traditional scission between East and West by examining what was at stake on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Beyond political boundaries, it allows for the identification of essential differences between art practices that share formal similarities – but with different content – and a closer examination of the very nature of the possible links between countries. By looking at artistic scenes that have already been studied in the past, we can analyse the conditions within which our current inherited perspective has been shaped and whose impact we have yet to recognise. Today it is important to understand the reason for which the primacy of reality seemed largely accepted and how it was applied to a variety of forms during the Cold War years. The project aims to break with the progressive writing of art history that analyses the logical line of succession of art movements, and instead insists upon the complementary aspects of these forms in an endeavour to define new points of reference within a highly ideological context following the upheaval engendered by the Second World War. In short, this research project aims to analyse the application of a notion to the fine arts by each of the opposing blocks during the Cold War. It takes into account the incidence of ideological warfare on the shaping of opinions, judgements, interpretations, and classifications with the arts in order to focus on, with greater nuance, the ties that were established on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

One of the primary objectives of this research is to gain a clearer understanding of the notion of the real between members of a European team. Since it will not be possible to arrive at a strict equivalence between French, German and Polish terms, the team will take into consideration what is said with regard to the position of the artist in relationship to the outside world through reading art press, artists’ writings and works by art historians. It will also consider the way in which the artist introduces objects into art, the choice of figurative subject, the removal of barriers between art and life, and the detailed search for an object’s accurate authenticity through unvarnished representations. Research on the notion of real is articulated through the aim of understanding the variations on both sides of the Iron Curtain and through exchanges between East and West. It will be a priority for us to identify ways in which this notion was used through differing perspectives between these four countries. In order to accomplish this we will need to put into place a highly rigorous method of research based on sorting through archives, exhibition catalogues and journals. This research will be backed up by interviews with artists who were active during this time period.

Four PhD students in art history will contribute to the fulfilment of the project’s objectives, each concentrating on their assigned country.

A postdoctoral researcher will examine the question of the real from a philosophical point of view.

Four senior professors specialised in topics related to this project will support the intellectual work of the group with their recommendations and critical feedback. They will help to refine the proposals put forward through their strong ties to the research community and will be involved in the results stemming from the research by contributing to publications and meetings.

The project is designed to be undertaken in four phases over a period of sixty months. The three initial phases have taken place over the first three years of the project. The final phase will take place during the fourth and fifth years of the project and will consist of interpreting source material and analysing works of art. Research findings will be presented at a series of workshops held regularly by team members, as well as in the publication of a collective volume providing an overview of the diverse questions raised by the project and an anthology of texts on the subject of reality/the real, and a database containing all the major texts identified in research on journals and publications, which will be translated into English in order to promote awareness of the subject.

Finally, this project has made it possible to assemble an unprecedented team of trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary experts focusing on a fundamental subject of research on the history of 20th century art that will make its mark on our approach to art history and, more generally, to European issues during the Cold War. For further information see www.own-reality.org    


  • Centre allemand d'histoire de l'art - 45 rue des Petits Champs
    Paris, France (75001)


  • Friday, November 22, 2013


  • histoire de l'art, esthétique, théorie de l'art


  • Mathilde Arnoux
    courriel : marnoux [at] dfk-paris [dot] org

Information source

  • Mathilde Arnoux
    courriel : marnoux [at] dfk-paris [dot] org

To cite this announcement

« Position for a post-doc in the project “To Each His Own Reality: The notion of the real in the fine arts of France, West Germany, East Germany and Poland between 1960 and 1989” », Scholarship, prize and job offer, Calenda, Published on Thursday, September 19, 2013, https://calenda.org/259622

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