"Exit from the picture" - this catchy phrase coined by art historian Laszlo Glozer sums up the wholesale questioning of the genres that was witnessed around 1960, and which led to the "unique, one-off painting" being coupled with reproduced pictures, or extended into space as an assemblage or environment, or even being destroyed in actions. But for a long time the public was unaware that a new generation of now important painters was growing up at the same time. These painters included Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, who together with Konrad Lueg put on a "Demonstration for Capitalist Realism" in 1963. They presented themselves and their works in a furniture store in Düsseldorf in an action that amounted to an ironic game with the consumer world.
Their "Capitalist Realism" introduced a reality coloured by commodity structures into the reality of painting. The trivial motifs that Polke picked for his raster dot paintings, such as press photos, pin-ups, socks, shirts, or biscuits could have come from Pop Art. But Polke used the motifs so as to flatten out the importance of the content through their very indifference. In this way the dot patterning attained a painterly quality of its own and did not have, as in the case of Lichtenstein, who inspired Polke, any aspects still related to commercial art. Like Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter took photographs as the visual copy for his paintings, although not from glossies but from the private realm of his friends and family. His way of painting produces hazy contours, making the photos appear out of focus. "Paintings are not made in order to be compared with reality", as Richter points out. His painting has a conceptual basis, for it is a reflection on painting in painting. Similarly when Richter embarked in the 1980s on "abstract paintings", the conceptual aspect remained discernable. For unlike the immediate, uncontrolled self-expression of an Expressionist, his works are carefully calculated and produce more of a technical impression, as if we were looking at monumental enlargements of brushstrokes or smears that recall the "blurring" in his photo-based paintings.
In the 1980s painting rose again to international recognition. It was as if people were hungering for pictures after all the various media that had been explored, after the deliberate use of simple and poor materials and the withdrawal from the artist's own subjectivity in Minimal and Conceptual art. Artist personalities such as Maria Lassnig now at last received international acclaim. Many of the great practitioners of painting came from East Germany, such as Georg Baselitz, A.R. Penck, and Jörg Immendorff. Ten years after Werner Haftmann coined the formula "abstraction as a universal language" to describe the painting of the 1950s, the new generation of artists wanted to produce a figurative painting that did not, however, kowtow to the dictates of copying the world. This is why Baselitz explains that figuration merely serves as a scaffold to avoid one from slipping into arbitrariness. He is far more concerned in fact with investigating the medium itself. Parallel to this Markus Lüpertz developed his "Dithyrambic painting", which enciphers topics from recent German history: "My entire oeuvre is determined by the concretisation of the abstract." Anselm Kiefer likewise got to grips with German history and mythology. A pupil of Joseph Beuys, he considers that history has to be approached through a subjective process, and he does not believe that it can be objectified. The immediacy of his painting and the materials he incorporates into them mirrors his own knowledge of history - not as something memorised but as present in the very moment. Similar themes were also tackled by Jörg Immendorff and Martin Kippenberger in their paintings. Immendorff's political analyses of painting and Kippenberger's cynical commentaries and ironic distance nevertheless led to a self-reflexive, conceptual level in painting that disturbed and provoked their contemporaries. It is this irreverent marriage of painting and petty bourgeois low culture and middle class high culture, this amalgam of wit, humour and the levity of Fluxus with political and social topics, that can also be seen once again in the works of Georg Herold, Rosemarie Trockel and Markus Oehlen - even if their choice of media is not restricted to oil on canvas, clay and stone, but replaces oil with wool, and wood and clay with wooden planks and bricks. Nowadays it is artists such as Christopher Wool, Peter Doig and Susanne Paesler who have brought important new painterly and conceptual impulses to painting.