‘Werk ohne autor’: a movie on German art

According AppleTV, it was a thriller. According other sources, it was an epic drama. I say it was a movie on art. And, of course; about the context in which the art was made.

We’re talking about post WWII Germany: Dresden in the sixties. Although the story starts a lot earlier. It is said that the story refers to Gerthard Richter’s life, although Richter wasn’t quite fond of the end result. The main character in the movie: artist Kurt Barnert (an excellent role played by Tom Schilling) was a student at the Dresden Academy of fine arts, and forced to paint in the social realism style, which was the only permitted art style in the DDR. He was very good at painting, even though the social realism style wasn’t to his liking.

Like Richter, Barnert flees with his wife to west Europe, where he became a student at the Düsseldorf kunstakademie. Like Richter, Barnert became famous with paintings which were based on photo’s. Barnert smudged the pictures, which were black and grey, just like Richters’. One of the pictures Barnert painted in blur, was a picture of him and his aunt Elisabeth. In the movie, he claims that he doesn’t know who the lady is, neither does he tell the lady is holding him, as a child. Richter painted a similar painting, of his aunt Marianne, holding him as a child.

Aunt Marianne, or; aunt Elisabeth in the movie, plays a significant role in the story. In the movie, aunt Elisabeth was very close to the young Barnert. But during the war, she was deported, and sterilised because she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The man directly responsible for the sterilisation, and eventually her death, was to become Barnert’s father in law. A sick story, but it’s very close to the truth. Richter’s aunt Marianne also had the same fate, and Richter’s father in law could have played a role in her death.

first photo: the original painting by Gerhard Richter, second photo: the painting made in the movie

The movie was about the horrific fate of a young girl, diagnosed with schizophrenia, but most of all, the movie was about art. About the making of art in Germany during the sixties. And yes: about how different regimes (the nazi regime and the communist regime) had a hold on permitted art styles. About the DDR. About WWII. About the terrible euthanasia program during WWII. About how a father can terrorise his daughters life. And about finding a way to express yourself in art. (Art again) About staying true to yourself when you’re an artist, while everyone expects you to deliver.

Interesting quotes:

“Painting is dead. Like folk dancing, bobbins and silent films” by Harry Preusser, an art student who creates art by hammering pins in wood. A resemblance with Preusser and Günther Uecker is easily seen. Uecker also lived and worked in 60’s Germany.

“Everything real is beautiful. .. (meaning:)…when I call six numbers, it is stupid. Useless. But when these six numbers are the winning lotto numbers, they are not useless. They’re right and valuable. Almost beautiful” by Kurt Barnert, when a reporter asks if it doesn’t bother him that the composition of the amateur photo’s he’s copying, is a coincidence.

“Before the national socialists took power in Germany, there existed something like modern art. Modern art means, like the word says it does: that every year there was a different kind of art. Social nationalistic Germany wants a German art, which will be, like every creative public values, eternal. And if it doesn’t have eternal value, than we can say it is of no value at all. (….) There are two possibilities: these so called artists see the world really that way. And if they do, and believe in what they portrait, then we need to investigate whether their eye deviation is due to an accident, or if it is genetic. In the first case, it is unfortunate for these unfortunates. But in the second case, the ministery of home affairs needs to make sure to prevent heredity of this horrifying eye deficient” by the guide at the 1937 ‘Entartete kunst’ exhibit in nazi-Dresden.

“Work on your attitude, work on your craft, and the right art will naturally rise through you” by the art teacher at the Dresden Academy of fine arts.

“Innovation, creative independency, and artistic freedom. These words sound very tempting for an artist. Me, me, me. But the modern artist will only get real freedom when he is in service of the people. ‘Me, me, me’ will only lead to misfortune. In the best case it’ll lead to a patronage of decadent, rich collectors. These are exploiters of the working class, who take pride in having nothing in common with the people. Not even their taste in art. Decay, mysticism, and pornography. Empty shapes, artificial constructions. Smudges, lines, bullets, cones. That all; only to be an innovator? Yes. It is new. But it also is wrong. And it is vain. And stupid. Undemocratic. Decadent. Be different, gentlemen. Be different.” By the art teacher at de Dresden Academy of fine arts.

No thriller

It is a wonderful story: it is a three hours long sit, but not a dull moment in it. It is not a thriller, but it is very shocking to see the truth about the nazi’s euthanasia program. The making of the paintings was filmed wonderfully. And the music by Max Richter (why a Richter again?) is absolutely fantastic.




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