6 Contemporary German Artists You Need to Know

MadC 700-Wall / via Youtube
MadC 700-Wall / via Youtube
Evelyn Smallwood

The 20th century was a rambunctious time in German art history. Contemporary artists have dealt with war, communism, massive social change and a greater trend towards abstraction in various ways. From Gerhard Richter’s fuzzified realism to Candida Höfer’s empty social spaces, and, in the 21st century, MadC’s expansive spray-paint murals, read on to discover six German artists worth a second look.

Gerhard Richter

The grandfather of the German contemporary art scene. Born in 1932 in Dresden, Richter studied first as a set and sign painter before going to art school. He considers himself a Surrealist and is most famous for blurred portraiture. His explanation for this is, “to make everything equally important and equally unimportant.” In 2015, Richter’s painting “Abstraktes Bild”sold at Sotheby’s in London for $44.52 million, the highest price paid for a painting by a living artist.

Isa Genzken

Genzken works with photography, video, collage and film, though her primary medium is sculpture. Her best known work is “Rose” (1993/7), which is an eight-meter (26-foot) tall enamelled-steel rose permanently installed outside the Leipzig Messe. “Rose II” appeared in New York as a temporary installation in 2010. Fans of her work say its unpredictable and contradictory nature open the imagination and expand the mind.

Wolfgang Beltracchi

If the contemporary art world has ever seemed like it could maybe be a con, Wolfgang Beltracchi is the artist for you. Germany’s best known art forger is entrepreneurially ingenious as well as skilled with the brush. He realized the way forward was not to copy existing paintings, but to produce those known to be lost, arrange for them to be magically found at a yard sale or an attic and then brought to auction. Before he was finally jailed in 2011 along with his wife Helene, the scam netted him at least $45 million.


Candida Höfer

After studying in Cologne from 1964–1968, photographer Candida Höfer got a job taking portraits for a newspaper. She was one of the first German photographers to use color film and became famous for her large format images of empty public spaces such as banks, offices and waiting rooms. One of her later series consists of images of the Louvre Museum without any humans in sight.

Neo Rauch

The master of imagination and arguably the most influential living German painter, Neo Rauch is lauded the world over for his vivid use of color as well as the juxtaposition of figurative and abstract elements. As Rauch describes his work, “I view the process of painting as an extraordinarily natural form of discovering the world, almost [as] natural as breathing.” Part of the New Leipzig School, Rauch’s work is influenced by Magritte and de Chirico.


Claudia Walde, known professionally as MadC, painted her first graffiti piece in 1996 at age 16. She has since become known as a large-scale muralist and views graffiti as the best way to express herself since it is the final product that is most important, not the artist. In addition to spray paint, she also uses ink, acrylic and watercolours. In 2010, her 700 square meter (7,500 square foot) mural “700-Wall” launched her onto the international art scene.

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