In very timely fashion, I saw this mosaic on a wall adjoining the Olympia Stützpunkt (‘Olympic Base’, badly translated), whilst out walking by Lake Templin in Potsdam a few weeks ago. Formerly a training centre for top GDR sportspeople, the Stützpunkt continues to serve as a hothouse for elite rowers/swimmers/etc, as well as sporting soldiers. As you might expect from its name, the OSP has produced a number Olympic champions.
The mosaic is pretty amateurish (not to mention chaotic) for a GDR-era public artwork, which means it probably wasn’t an official, state-sanctioned commission. In fact, I’ve no proof that it’s actually East German, but am assuming that it is, based on the fact that the mosaic is a. in a state of disrepair, b. attached to a wall, which by local standards, qualifies as ancient (i.e. it’s more than two decades old), and c. located on a site located in the former East. Decrepit + old (but not too old) + situated in the former East = East German. It’s a simple equasion I have applied to many an artwork round these parts, when I can’t find any information about them. Nothing like a bit of dilettante art history, eh?
I’m guessing that the man depicted in the terracota frieze is someone from German sporting history, like the father of gymnastics Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (although he, ahem, ‘sported’ a curly beard). I think he’s unlikely to be Marx, due to his balding pate and straight locks. Anyway, this man’s identity, as well as the origins of the artwork will probably forever remain a mystery to me, since I can’t find any information about them anywhere. My questions at the centre were met by shrugged shoulders and bafflement as to why I would be interested in finding out the provenance of a crumbling old East German mosaic.
When I first saw this from a distance, I thought it was a bit of colourful graffiti. On closer inspection, it revealed itself to be an uncharacteristically psychedelic GDR-era ceramic mosaic (although it actually looks like a frieze). The 70s Eastern bloc folk-artsy rendering and utopian iconography ( jolly peasants, smiling sun, nature and mankind as one – all popular motifs in GDR public art), gave it away. The gasp, old, wall was also a clue. I did a bit of internet research and found out that the mosaic is entitled ‘Völkerfreundschaft” (friendship between nations) and is the work of East German artists Carola and Joachim Buhlmann. It was completed in 1979.
The mosaic is located on Potsdam’s Wall am Kiez, sandwiched between lots of late 80s Plattenbauten and the picturesque Neustädter Havelbucht (a little bay by the River Havel), not far from Ulrich Müther’s wonderful ‘Seerose’ cafe.
I can’t establish whether this is the frieze’s original colour scheme or not (it’s clearly been (badly) repainted since 1989). I’ve certainly never seen such a bonkers combination used in any other East German figurative art. But maybe I haven’t seen enough?
You can see other examples of Frau Buhlmann’s work on Kunst am Bau‘s amazing flickr site (which documents pratically every ‘architectonic/ ‘baugebundene’ GDR art work in the former East!!!) here. And you can see her famous ‘Green Family’ in Potsdam here.
An exhibition documenting the work of Kunst am Bau, a GDR artists’ collective, opens in Dresden this Saturday. KaB worked on many of the large scale urban developments in East Germany and shaped public art across the country . Formed in 1958, the group consisted of painters,architects, graphic designers, and ceramists. They produced around 2,500 works in Dresden, Halle, Leipzig & Berlin, including mosaics, murals, sculptures, fountains, molded walls (including the distinctive rippled walls), structural walls & playground features.
Despite being dependent on state patronage and approval, the group didn’t really subscribe to the official Socialist Realist style & embraced more radical styles such as abstraction and cubism. The work was space-age, utopian and pretty outlandish. Have a look at the elephant pictured below, built from prefabricated components:
The group was dissolved in 1990.
In years following the Wende, many of their works were destroyed and/or fell into disrepair.
The KiB exhibition brings together some of the KiBs surviving works, removed from their original architectonic contexts, photos of the ones which didn’t survive, as well as documents relating to the state commissions, and reflects the renewed interest in the once discredited visual culture of the GDR.
The exhibition is in their former studios in southern Dresden and runs til the 25. Sept.