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Cover Illustrations of Der Spiegel: A Mirror of the Times

Jointly organized by the Goethe-Instut Korea, Der Spiegel, and JoongAng Ilbo, along with support from the Korea Foundation, “The Art of SPIEGEL” exhibition was presented at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center (March 5-25). This display featured some 100 cover illustrations of Der Spiegel, Germany’s foremost magazine about current affairs.



Der Spiegel: Worldwide Influence
In “The Lives of Others” (Das Leben der Anderen), a film about the former East German regime and its repressive nature, the lead character Dreyman writes an anonymous article about the harsh suppression imposed on artistic freedom in East Germany, which he sends to the weekly magazine, Der Spiegel, to bring attention to the fact that he had been bugged by the regime’s agents. This episode demonstrates the high esteem in which Der Spiegel is held, among German people and European society as well. This is also evident from its weekly circulation of some 1.2 million subscribers in 172 countries worldwide, along with an estimated readership of about 6 million.
Since the time of its founding in 1947 in Hamburg, Germany, Der Spiegel has provided comprehensive coverage of domestic and global affairs, including the revelation of political scandals through its aggressive efforts to uphold democratic governance and freedom of the press. The positive reputation of Der Spiegel is attributed in large part to its system of factual verification by a staff of in-house experts. About 90 specialists, with advanced degrees, thoroughly verify the accuracy of articles written by some 270 reporters, which instills a sense of trustworthiness among its readers. With its detailed reporting and insightful analyses, Der Spiegel has maintained a proven track record for credible and forthright journalism.

‘Face’ of Each Edition
For each edition of Der Spiegel, the cover illustration is printed only after a painstaking process, because of its vital function as the magazine’s “face,” which can hopefully attract the attention of people as they scan the multitude of media choices at a newsstand. The intended message, conveyed by the visual images within the trademark red border of the Der Spiegel cover, is an integral aspect of its widespread popularity and distinctive appearance. According to Martin Doery, the deputy editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, the process of selecting each magazine’s cover is almost beyond imagination. Often, about five drafts are considered before deciding on the final version.
To date, about 3,288 Der Spiegel covers have been published. Despite the tight deadline of a weekly production schedule, every illustration is carefully evaluated before it is approved by the editorial staff. Moreover, since the 1960s, the magazine has looked beyond the realistic images of people’s faces, by encouraging artists to create a powerful visual impact through the innovative artistry that overcomes the limitations of regular photography. As an example of this approach, Hermann Deckwitz, one of the magazine’s early illustrators, depicted Mao Zedong with a dragon-like snare around his neck, which vividly expressed Der Spiegel’s particular message.
For each cover, the Der Spiegel editorial department recommends an illustrator, oftentimes a world-class artist, who is commissioned to create the cover artwork. Over the years, the magazine has worked with such prominent artists as Tim O’Brien, Rafal Olbinsky, Chris Payne, and Alfons Kiefer, who have applied their artistic creativity to produce provocative, as well as humorous, cover illustrations, in accordance with the selected editorial theme. Of particular note, the illustrations are usually produced with oil or acrylic paint, which the deputy editor says are “just like the works of great artists of the past.”



Record of our Changing Times
After viewing the almost 100 illustrations on display, you might come away with two particular impressions. One, the covers serve as a unique record of the state of current affairs, in Germany and worldwide, and two, the illustrations can be regarded as a noteworthy form of modern art, which is expressed through imaginative artistry and astute symbolism. Initially, the Der Spiegel content, and related covers, focused mainly on political officials and influential figures, such as Eisenhower, Adenauer, and Stalin.
However, it eventually dealt more with a variety of social issues, such as the birthrate in Germany (Alfons Kiefer, 2004, “The Last German”), molecular biology (Robert Giusti, 1998, “The Flash of God”), academic achievement of students (Mihanel Fles, “Smart Girls, Stupid Boys”), weight-loss fads (Robert Giusti, 2005, “Diet Addiction”), and modern psychoanalysis (Rafal Olvinski, 2005, “Was Freud Still Right”). Moreover, aside from paint media, there are also innovative works based on clay forms (Liz Lomax) and digital photography (Mihanel Fles). Der Spiegel is also known for the boldness of its editorial stance, as can be seen in its portrayal of the Bush administration as Rambo-like characters (2002) and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il as a ruler obsessed
with nuclear arms (1995).
Due to national division after World War II, Germany and Korea have endured similar historical hardships. Nevertheless, Der Spiegel has managed to overcome its difficult circumstances, while the unification of Germany provides hope for the Korea Peninsula’s eventual unification as well. Accordingly, this example of cultural exchange between Germany and Korea is all the more meaningful and poignant, in terms of its contribution to the efforts to realize a closer understanding between our two peoples.