The Art of Falling Apart

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.

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Volkskunst

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.

Old school

This beaut can be found on the facade of the deceptively grand-sounding Villa Murkelmeier nursery school in Sebastianstrasse 22. It’s located amongst the peculiar mish-mash of overgrown plots, luxury flats and council houses which characterises the Mitte/Kreuzberg border. The Berlin wall stood directly behind the building. The Villa is a former creche built in the 1960s. It’s been miraculously renovated from the inside, thus sparing the exterior from destruction. Hurrah!

P.S Apologies for ropey pic quality.South facin’ guv.Will prob go back and try to get some better ones.

The statistics show….

…that if it’s East German public art, it’s probably not long for this world. This is a metal sculpture on the side of the condemned Haus der Statistik on Otto Braun Strasse.

It’s already been removed (see below). Which means you’ll have to make do with the pics above. Not really the same though, is it?

Mensch!

As promised, here are some images of Walter Womacka’s mural ‘Der Mensch dass Mass alle Dinge’ (Man, the measure of all things) being removed from the side of the Ministerium für Bauwesen in Breite Strasse last year.

The mural was mounted on the front of the building by Womacka and his students from the Kunsthochschule Weisensee (where he was rector) in 1968. It consisted of 350 copper panels covered in ceramic paint.

In summer 2010, Berlin city council announced that the building was due for demolition. It couldn’t find a home for Womacka’s mural (which is a whopping 15 x 6 metres) and was threatening to bin it, until WBM Mitte housing association stepped in at the last minute and agreed to cover the costs of removal and storage. It did so allegedly because Womacka had been one of its tenants since the mid-80s. WBM Mitte also owns the Haus des Lehrers on Alexanderplatz, which is decorated with Womacka’s iconic mosaic frieze, ‘Unsere Leben‘ (Our Life).

The mural was removed on 4th/5th October 2010. Each of the plates was taken off carefully and lowered down very unceremoniously in an Ikea bag. They were then packed into wooden crates. I expected an audience, but there was no one there, just me, a foreigner with a crap camera, snapping away. It was a bit of an undignified ending for the mural. However much of a stubborn old GDR apologist he was, I’m glad that Womacka didn’t live to see it happen.

The Womacka society had attached a series of posters to the surrounding fence, announcing the ‘Day of the Removal'(!) which included a biography and a list of his works already destroyed since the Wende, as well as the protected & endangered survivors. I was shocked to discover the relief on the Haus des Reisens on the list. No GDR era art, it seems, is safe, unless it’s already survived a renovation (see the mosaics on the Haus des Lehrers & Cafe Moskau).

Kunst am Bau


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.

http://www.kunst-am-bau-ddr.de/ausstellung-2011.html

Schilling Times

This mosaic is located on the side of the entrance to Schillingstrasse 30.  The building is home to the ex-communist Solidarity Housing Association, which owns a lot of towerblocks in the area.

I’ve seen an identical mosaic on a building on the Strasse der Pariser Commune, so it must have been serially produced, a bit like the tower blocks themselves.