History of Art


Olivia Tait

Olivia Tait



Homestories: Performing & Visualising the Familial in West Germany 1961 - 1989

This thesis explores how postwar German artists, including Gerhard Richter (b.1932), Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), and Isa Genzken (b.1948), have publicly mediated, performed and interrogated the familial gaze during the three decades dominated by the divisive Berlin Wall. It considers the ways in which their paintings, artist’s books, and more ephemeral paper-based and printed productions have reworked and reused ‘personal’ photographs in works that have been repeatedly dismissed as sentimental, kitsch or disregarded as ‘documents.’ My project not only resituates these ostensibly ‘private’ images – depicting the artists in and around the home, with partners, friends, collaborators, children, and other family members – but also positions them as significant contributions to the postwar German cultural engagement with the familial. I explore the cultural meanings of these liminal images on the threshold between the private and public, and aim to understand why and how these artists repeatedly return to the familial and domestic, and the place of these works in relation to the public consciousness of the family and home in West Germany. Situating Genzken, Polke, Baselitz and Richter’s familial portraits within the context of the legal, economic, cultural and social construction of the family, I outline the material conditions and contradictions of postwar identity construction in West Germany. I argue that these works can be understood as a kind of conceptual and theoretical model for rethinking the place of the familial and the personal within the discipline of art history. Fundamentally, this thesis asks: what is the critical potential of the familial? And crucially, can these works offer an ‘intimate’ way of looking and a model of relationality that leads out of the cul-de-sac of the biographical?

Research Interests

postwar German portraiture (photographic, painted); family and self- portraiture; artistic self-staging and self-fashioning; Cold War West German cultural productions (including film and literature); domesticity; artistic autonomy.

Research Themes

Art, Design & Architecture; European Studies; Heritage, History & Cultures; Language, Linguistics & Literatur


Editorial Assistant, Oxford Art Journal (2016-2018)

Franz Roh Fellow 2016, Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich: Performing the Self: Conceptions of Artistic 'Identity' in the FRG 1961-1989