Diary Note 40: Dokumenta

20 VIII 2021

KS bought me the catalogue of Dokumenta, prepared for an exhibition at the Historisches Museum and considering its first half century. The book touches on many aspects of the first 9 events, but instead of mainly weighing their art-historical content, concentrates on the political context of these years. Beginning in 1955. ‘Politics and Art’ is the title. It puts Kassel at the frontier between the two Germanys in the cold war.

We had spent some time at the exhibition. In the book I first checked a detail, the small portrait of Francois Villon by Gustav Seitz. The sculpture had intrigued me at the exhibit, because it was the interpretation of a specific individuality by an artist, not a statement in a larger battle of styles. It is hard (and therefore necessary) to look at such a work with fresh eyes. The catalogue shows a contemporary photograph that takes the bronze bust from beneath, with strong light from the side, which eliminates exactly the subtle lining of the skin, the smile of disbelief on the lips, and the general “finesse” of the French spirit. These were evoked by the genius of Gustav Seitz and the photo simply returns the portrait to the banality of social realism. Käthe Kollwitz also belongs to this inner expressionism of the realist mode.

The exhibition treats the influence of politics on art, which is revealing. Werner Haftmann is unmasked as a crypto censor on behalf of the Nazis. That is OK, but does not reveal the full history of the times he wore the SS uniform. The true story is told by the murder of Rudolf Levy (1875-1944). A sensitive artist who in 1938 sought shelter in Florence. But even in Italy was hunted down by the SS and killed. A letter of witness Emy Roeder tells the story in careful and impeccable handwriting.

Both Nazism and the Cold War are clarified by the artistic destinies of Levy and Seitz.