Two Notes on the Aesthetic of Dierk Schmidt’s History Painting


For her doctoral thesis on the German artist Dierk Schmidt the art historian Veronica Tello was examining the 19-parts painting series SIEV-X (2001-2003). This work was purchased by the Städel Museum in 2009 for their collection. Center of her research was the painting “Xenophobe – Shipwreck Scene, Dedicated to the 353 Asylum Seekers who Dronwed in the Indian Ocean on the Morning of October 19, 2001“ (2001/2002). SIEV-X is both history painting, political statement and reflection about the possibilities of history painting.

Another aspect of Tello’s thesis was the research of history painting and especially the relationship of “Xenophobe” and Theodore Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa” (1819) because both works show similarities in structural and aesthetical regard. Veronica Tello observed that given the aftermath of modernist painting, which annihilated the possibilites of history painting, as it was known in the nineteenth century, the question emerges, if history painting re-emerges today, what is ist aesthtic difference?

Another aspect was the Not-document in the work of Dierk Schmidt. Schmidt participated in forging the history of SIEV-X, not just by way of the artificial act of painting, but by specualting, bringing together imagined events, aesthticising witness statements, leaving blanks to signify voids of information, quoting journalistic information to imbue his paintings with an evidentiary tone.

Veronica Tello was a PhD candidate in the department of Art History at the University of Melbourne where she is completing her thesis titled, Counter-memorials, and Failures: Three Studies on Artists’ Responses to Refugee Experiences on the Margins of Australia. She is also an art critic, publishing in Afterall, Artlink, Artworld, Art and Australia and Photofile.