Schirn Opens Eugen Schonebeck Retrospective

The Schirn presents an extensive retrospective to German painter Eugen Schönebeck, featuring almost all of his surviving paintings and the most important drawings. On view through 15 May, 2011.

Starting out with Tachist drawing, Schönebeck turned to figurative drawing and painting, and was one of the first German artists to take up the traumatic experiences of the Second World War as a theme. He created unique works, combining the abstract and the figurative. In 1961 and 1962 he and Georg Baselitz pilloried the bourgeois, jaded art world in their publication of the Pandemonic Manifestos.

Schönebeck’s growing awareness of Soviet intellectualism in the former German Democratic Republic inspired him in the mid-1960s to create timeless portraits of various “Heroes of the East,” none of which were produced for propaganda purposes. In these pictures, Schönebeck not only scrutinized the character and behavior of revolutionaries such as Lenin, Trotzky, and Mao, but also the significance of the artist’s willingness to take risks. Schönebeck’s paintings and drawings were indeed ahead of their time, and to this very day, the issues they deal with have retained their topicality.

The exhibition is sponsored by Hessische Kulturstiftung and Škoda Auto Deutschland. Additional support by the Fazit-Stiftung.

Eugen Schönebeck was born in Heidenau near Dresden in 1936. In 1954, after being apprenticed to become a stage-set painter at the Municipal Arts and Crafts College in Pirna, Saxony, he enrolled at the College of Applied Arts in East Berlin. He left the German Democratic Republic in the following year for West Berlin to study at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. In his years at the academy from 1955 to 1961, he became familiar with the more recent developments in European art and showed himself impressed by the works of Nicolas de Staël, Jean Fautrier, Henri Michaux, Wols, Hans Hartung, and others. The intellectual atmosphere of Paris had a lasting influence on him. He read Baudelaire, Lautréamont, Rimbaud, and Artaud. His impressions inspired him to highly expressive gestural drawings. In 1957, he made friends with Georg Baselitz. An intense exchange of ideas about art ensued, which was to last for five years. Shortly after the publication of “Pandemonium II – Manifesto”, a poster-sized leaflet with texts by both artists, their collaboration found an end in 1962. Schönebeck had already turned his back to gestural painting at that time and gradually come to the conclusion that art had to be pointing a way forward. In Pandemonium II, he and Baselitz had called for a new art which was to detach itself from the prevailing abstract painting of Art Informel and Tachisme and in which, like in Surrealism, art and life were to be more directly related to each other again. This was how they hoped to open up a new approach to reality. “I regard the abyss of sincerity as a raison d’être, a bestiary, an entire life, an inner swelling force. A truth that will always be hanging in the balance! . . . It’s about life, not about narcissism,” Schönebeck emphasized in the “Manifesto”.

Image: EUGEN SCHÖNEBECK, MAJAKOWSKI, 1965, MUSEUM FRIEDER BURDA, BADEN-BADEN © VG BILD-KUNST, BONN 2010, FOTOGRAFIE: ARCHIV MUSEUM FRIEDER BURDA

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