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Eugen Schönebeck in the Frankfurt Schirn
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"It’s about life, not narcissism"
Eugen Schönebeck in the Frankfurt Schirn



After Peter Roehr and Uwe Lausen, another German artist of the 1960s is waiting to be rediscovered in Frankfurt—the painter Eugen Schönebeck. The Schirn has dedicated a major exhibition to the artist, who was born in 1936 near Dresden; the show includes almost all existing paintings and the most important drawings. Many of Schönebeck’s paper works are part of the Deutsche Bank Collection, which supports the show with four loans. Among these are the drawing Mayakovsky, which was made in 1966. This portrait of the Soviet poet was made in connection with a series begun in 1964 that is dedicated to the "spiritual heroes of Socialism"— Lenin, Trotzky, Mao, and the Mexican painter and communist activist David Alfaro Siqueiros. In an allusion to the two-dimensionality of Pop Art, Schönebeck, who moved to West Berlin following his studies at the School for Applied Arts in East Berlin, used a flat painterly style that he’d learned in a mural apprenticeship in the GDR to paint the likeness of his stony-faced "icons." In doing so, Schönebeck reveals the power of images in a dual sense: on the one hand, their power to seduce people in the service of an ideology, and on the other their ability to uncover the very mechanisms in operation.

Schönebeck became acquainted with contemporary European art during his time at the West Berlin Hochschule für bildende Künste from 1955 to 1961. Deeply impressed by the works of Jean Fautrier, Wols, and Hans Hartung, he made his first gestural drawings there. In 1957 he began an intense creative exchange with Georg Baselitz that culminated in the publication of Pandaemonium II—Manifesto in which the two called for a new kind of art in a radical departure from the prevailing abstract painting of the Informel and Tachism movements, which they felt were too little engaged: "It’s about life, not narcissism." Schönebeck’s works from this time portray mutated creatures situated somewhere between the world of the living and the dead, between abstraction and figuration. In paintings that are often grotesquely exaggerated, Schönebeck processed the horrors he experienced as a child at the end of the Second World War. A short time later, he developed his "realistic" visual language and embarked on his large-scale portraits. These unique works, which seem so contemporary to us today, met with very little interest at the time. In 1967, Eugen Schönebeck made his last paintings and subsequently retreated entirely into private life.

Eugen Schönebeck 1957–1967
February 23 – May 15, 2011
Schirn, Frankfurt am Main




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