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Beyond the Wall: Post-Socialist Museums in the Former German Democratic Republic

Finkelstein, Emily (2023) Beyond the Wall: Post-Socialist Museums in the Former German Democratic Republic. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Since fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, museums of art across once-divided Germany have transformed into arenas where battles over the legacy of the socialist German Democratic Republic are fought, a symptom of the troubled process of defining Germany’s post-Wall identity. The complex legacy of German reunification has positioned these cultural institutions as critical sites for coming to terms with the past of division and re-constructing a shared cultural heritage. Today, almost 35 years after reunification, Germany’s museums have begun to reassess the artistic legacy of East Germany through a series of exhibitions that belatedly integrate East German art history into the canon of German modernism. This project closely analyses six cultural institutions that existed in the German Democratic Republic and the divided city of Berlin in order to understand their position as a bridge or threshold between the past and the present, the local and the global. Using a methodology and language developed from the work of the Polish art historian Dr. Piotr Piotrowski, this dissertation project examines the dialogue that develops between museological content (exhibitions, collections, publications, public events) and context (architecture, urban topography, embeddedness in historical, political, and social narratives) in these cultural institutions to better understand their function in the context of public space. This dissertation is based on an interdisciplinary and intercultural framework that ultimately addresses the question of how cultural institutions can be used as instruments of democracy in the present. By focusing on the exhibition of East German art in museums after reunification, my dissertation accounts for the complexity of expanding art history and reconceptualizing museum practice within a global framework. At the same time, my study of museums as architects of Germany's cultural identity after the fall of the Berlin Wall underscores the dynamic potential and urgent need for cultural institutions to mediate the local and the global in our time and beyond.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Finkelstein, Emilyehf12@pitt.eduehf120009-0007-3692-6357
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMcCloskey,
Committee MemberHalle,
Committee MemberSmith,
Committee MemberGao,
Date: 6 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 April 2023
Approval Date: 6 September 2023
Submission Date: 29 June 2023
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 256
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Germany, East Germany, GDR, Post-Wende, Art History, Museum Studies, Piotr Piotrowski
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2023 15:48
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2023 15:48


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